ANN ARBOR, Mich. — At one point, the Niagara men’s soccer team only had two total shots, including just one on goal, against Michigan.
Yet, the Purple Eagles had a 1-0 second-half lead and thoughts of an upset dancing through their heads in the first round of the NCAA Tournament at U-M Soccer Stadium.
Instead of Bryan Da Cruz’s goal leading to another surprise in a season full of them, it wound up being the score that woke up the Wolverines, who soon put NU (13-2-4) to sleep.
Junior midfielder Fabio Pereira scored three straight goals, including two on penalty kicks, in a span of seven minutes late in the second half as Michigan ended the Purple Eagles’ dream season, 3-1.
Michigan (11-9-1) advances to the second round, where it will face host Akron on Sunday.
The loss snapped NU’s five-game winning streak, which included plenty of dramatic victories — including the 1-0 double overtime triumph over Loyola in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference final last Saturday that secured the program’s first berth in the “Big Dance.”
But in a season full of special wins, Niagara couldn’t deliver another triumphant moment.
“I am incredibly proud of the entire team,” NU coach Chase Brooks said. “The guys worked very hard all season long and unfortunately tonight it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Da Cruz, who had three of Niagara’s seven shots, scored in the 59th minute to break a scoreless tie. Pereira tied it on a penalty kick six minutes later for Michigan, which had a 16-1 edge in total shots at halftime, including 7-0 with shots on goal. He scored three minutes later to give the Wolverines, who had a 26-7 edge in total shots for the game, the lead for good before scoring on another penalty kick four minutes later.
Niagara was the first Western New York men’s soccer program to make the NCAA Division I Tournament since a Buffalo State Bengals crew featuring Randy Smith and Cal Kern did so in 1970.