The temperature was cold, but emotions were hot Thursday night at Stevenson Field, as No.22 Brown (12-3-3) defeated No.25 Boston College (10-5-5) in the opening round of the NCAA Division I men's soccer tournament. Midfielder Jon Okafor '11 and forward Austin Mandel '12 led the way for the Bears, notching a goal apiece in the 2-1 victory.
The Bears, who finished their home season undefeated, came out with tenacity and found the back of the net early on against the Eagles. Starting at the midfield line, Okafor weaved past a number of BC defenders before whipping a shot past goalkeeper Justin Luthy into the lower right corner of the goal 11 minutes into the game.
The defense held strong for Brown with its foursome of Ryan McDuff '13, David Walls '11, Eric Robertson '13 and Dylan Remick '13. The defenders were able to take away several shot opportunities for BC. Remick also had several close headers and shots on the offensive side that just couldn't find the net.
"We are very confident in our defense. We are a very solid unit and we will try and build," Walls said before poking fun at his First Team All-Ivy teammate. "We have a fairly decent goalkeeper as well."
Perhaps a little better than decent, goalkeeper Paul Grandstrand '11 recorded four saves for Bruno in a game that became physical for him in the second half. Eagle midfielder Colin Murphy came sliding cleats high at Grandstrand, who was on the ground with ball in arms. Murphy, who lay on the ground after the collision, received a yellow card on the play.
Mandel was in fine form for the Bears. Despite wearing a concussion cap, Mandel touched in a pass from midfielder Thomas McNamara '12 to give Bruno the lead just two minutes after a game-tying goal by midfielder Kyle Bekker.
Midfielder Jay Hayward '12 rattled the left goalpost when he ricocheted a blazing free kick restart in the 76th minute.
"We tried to get our feet on the ground early," said BC Head Coach Ed Kelly. "We knew that they were a team that comes out strong. They were just better athletes than us."
With less than five minutes remaining, Bekker rocketed a shot from 25 yards out across the goal into the right side of the net.
Bekker then made a celebratory lap past the Brown bench, circling his arm through the air and receiving a yellow card from the referee and boos from the nearly 1,000 Brunonians in the stands. Bekker later got in a heated debate with the head referee in the final minutes of the game over a handball and was given a second yellow card, knocking the goal-scorer out of the game.
"He had to go and mouth off again," Kelly said of Bekker. "Now he has to sit out and I don't know how he thought that was going to help us."
The head referee, Erich Simmons, was the same official who gave out a record number of yellow cards during Brown's game against Harvard earlier this year.
Head Coach Pat Laughlin, who is normally reserved on the sidelines, gave the assistant ref an earful on a couple of no-calls.
"You know, it's tough out there." Laughlin said. "It's a very physical game and it's a tough job for the ref. I just thought that some things should have been called."
"To go up against an (Atlantic Coast Conference) team after being knocked out by one last year is very exciting," Laughlin said, referring to Brown's second-round loss to the University of North Carolina last year. "It's an NCAA game. It's win or go home."
"Win or go home" is a message that rings loud and clear for the seniors on the Brown sideline. In the single-elimination tournament, every game could be their last.
"This team has been together for a long time," said defender David Walls '11. "We don't know where this journey is going to take us, but we are excited."
Defender Ian Smith '11 echoed the feeling.
"We play for a national championship," Smith said. "We are here playing for each other."
Brown will head to the University of Connecticut to take on the Huskies in second-round play. Kickoff is set for Sunday at 1 p.m.