A heroic comeback propelled the men's soccer team to victory over No. 35 Fairfield University last night at Stevenson Field in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The No. 29 Bears (11-4-3, 4-1-2 Ivy League) scored three goals in the last 16 minutes to erase the Stags' (12-5-1) two-goal lead in raw, wintry conditions. Stellar play from defender Dylan Remick '13 and forward Sean Rosa '12.5 helped spur Bruno on to the dramatic win and advance to the tournament's second round.
"It was a very exciting first round of the NCAA," said Head Coach Patrick Laughlin. "Fairfield gave us a lot of trouble in that first half, scored two goals, and we were down at halftime in a difficult place. I think the guys did an unbelievable job to keep battling and fighting throughout the 90 minutes."
The Bears got off to a roaring start in the first half, dominating possession in the first 10 minutes. Bruno looked to go ahead in the eighth minute after Evan Coleman '12 drove a volleyed shot across the box and past Fairfield keeper Michael O'Keefe. But the goal was called back due to an offside call, and the Bears were forced to keep searching for a breakthrough despite their commanding play.
Both teams had trouble adjusting to the slick field surface, as the falling wintry mix made it difficult for both teams to keep possession of the ball. O'Keefe kept his team in the game early by smothering multiple skidding shots to keep the game scoreless.
Bruno nearly got on the scoreboard again in the 27th minute when a cross from Austin Mandel '12 found Kevin Gavey '13 at the near post. Gavey nodded the ball towards the goal, but his effort skipped just outside of the post.
Despite Bruno's early dominance, the Stags drew first blood in impressive fashion. Midfielder Jake Zuniga hammered a volley from 20 yards out that flew over Brown keeper Sam Kernan-Schloss' '13 head and into the top corner of the net, giving the Stags a 1-0 advantage.
Fairfield added another goal just eight minutes later. A looping header off a cross from the left floated over Kernen-Schloss' head and into the side netting, giving the Stags a 2-0 lead going into halftime.
"We've played together now for two or three years, and so when they scored the second goal, we got together, and we knew we were okay," said co-captain Ryan McDuff '13. "We just had to keep putting pressure on them."
Bruno continued to play confidently at the start of the second half but still could not find a way through the Stag defense. Rosa created a scoring chance at the near post in the 61st minute, dribbling by two defenders, but was foiled again by O'Keefe, who made an impressive eight saves on the night.
After incessant pressure on the Stags' goal, Bruno finally broke through via Rosa. A low ball into the box was laid off along the 18-yard line, and Rosa struck it into the bottom corner of the net to get the Bears back into the game, 2-1.
"We knew that if we got one with at least a little time left, we'd have the belief," Rosa said. "From the moment I hit it, I knew it was in. From there on, the crowd got back into it, we got back into it. … There was just a belief that we could do this."
Rosa's goal opened the floodgates, as Bruno notched another just 40 seconds later. Mandel tapped home a rebound from another Rosa shot to level the score.
With five minutes left, Bruno scored the game-winner. The Stags' defense headed the ball out of the box, but the clearance fell to Aidan Leonard '14, who caught the ball on the volley and sent it flying into the bottom left corner to complete the dramatic comeback and send Stevenson into an uproar.
"I think we're a team with a lot of resolve," McDuff said. "We had the faith that we could come together and pull one out of the bag."
"Credit to Brown for the way they battled through the 90 minutes," said Fairfield Head Coach Carl Rees. "On another day, we'd get out alive."
The Bears move on to the second round and hit the road to play No. 11 St. John's University Sunday at 5 p.m.
"We've been scrapping all season," Laughlin said. "We were going to go out with a fight, and give everything we had in the second half, and see what came of it. For us, fortunately, the goals started flying in."
A previous version of this article credited T.J. Popolizio '12 with the Bears' second goal. In fact, Austin Mandel '12 scored the second goal. The Herald regrets the error.