Apr. 19—BOWLING GREEN — The Bowling Green State University men's soccer team took care of business on Sunday to clinch the Mid-American Conference championship.
The Falcons entered the final match of the regular season needing a win over Northern Illinois to capture the MAC title. Senior Achille Robin scored on a penalty kick early in overtime to lift the Falcons to a 2-1 win over the Huskies.
"I just focused on my task," Robin said. "I was confident. Yes, I scored it. But I scored it for my whole team. We deserve it. We worked hard for that moment. It could have been anyone on the team."
Senior midfielder Chris Sullivan scored on a spectacular individual effort to stake the Falcons to a 1-0 lead in the first half.
The Falcons (7-4-1 overall) finished with a 5-2-1 record in MAC play and earned the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
Bowling Green earned a spot in the NCAA championships for the seventh time in program history and the first time since 1997.
"We knew it would be tough. We knew they would push us to the brink," BG coach Eric Nichols said. "That was probably the most nerve-racking way to do this. But we knew to win the MAC championship that we were going to have to earn it, you're not going to be given it, and the guys went and earned it."
Sullivan worked his way around three Northern Illinois defenders inside the Huskies' box and scored with a left-footed strike.
Junior midfielder Kale Nichols, a St. John's Jesuit graduate, had the assist on Sullivan's goal.
Northern Illinois then tied the game at 1 early in the second half on a goal from Irvin Dominguez less than two minutes after the break.
Nichols said the team overcame the adversity of surrendering the early second-half goal.
"It would have been easy to break at that point. But the guys stayed dialed in," Nichols said.
Bowling Green's Nathan Masters was fouled in the penalty area at the 98:46 mark in overtime, leading to Robin's winning penalty kick. Robin drilled his PK with his right foot, tucking the game-winner inside the right post.
"That was incredible," Robin said. "It just feels so good."
Nichols called it the most significant goal in his 12 seasons at the helm.
"I have a lot of trust in Ach. He's just nails," Nichols said. "He has ice running through his veins."
BG goalkeeper Logan Kowalczyk finished with six saves, while Northern Illinois goalkeeper Martin Sanchez had four stops.
The Falcons had 22 overall shots toward goal to the Huskies' 16.
Bowling Green finished with a 3-0-1 record at Cochrane Stadium. Northern Illinois (5-8-1) went 4-6 in MAC play.
Sullivan led the team in goals scored (4) and points (13) this season. Sullivan said when the soccer season was shifted from the fall to the spring due to coronavirus complications, it only made the team hungrier.
"It's incredible," Sullivan said. "We've just been dealing with so much unknown stuff, so much that was out of our control. We got back to work right away. I'm proud of our team for staying locked in on the task. We always knew we had something special."
Kowalczyk (6-4-1) had a .771 save percentage and a 0.70 goals-against average.
Last May, MAC officials announced the cancellation of postseason tournaments for several sports, including men's soccer. The MAC men's title was decided by regular season winning percentage.
The NCAA tournament selection show will be held on Monday at noon. The first round of the 48-team tournament will take place at various venues in the state of North Carolina on April 29.
The BG men join the university's women's team in the NCAA tournament.
The Falcons women's team defeated Ball State 2-1 in the MAC tournament title game on Saturday. The BG women will learn who they will play during the selection show at 1 p.m. on Monday.
"They're always winning MAC championships. It's about time we got on board," Nichols said.
The Falcons lost 1-0 to West Virginia in the MAC tournament title game in 2019.
"It feels like forever that we've been chasing this," Nichols said. "The MAC championship is no joke. There are some big-time teams. We earned this. It's amazing. These kids are so resilient. They've been through so much. I wanted them to get what they deserved. They gave everything we asked for. I'm so happy for them. We've given Falcon nation a real gift today and I couldn't be happier for that."
First Published April 18, 2021, 5:42pm