Hamzat, Omaha win one for the ages

Photo by Omaha Athletics

Ray Koch

Bend it like Beckham? After Friday night’s men’s soccer game, the new saying around the Omaha area may just be, “Bend it like Hamzat.”

Senior Emmanuel Hamzat found the ball at his feet in the golden goal overtime period of Omaha’s home-opener against Grand Canyon University (GCU). With the score tied at 1-1, Hamzat took the ball up the sideline from about 25 yards out, took one dribble inside and from 18 yards out sent a curving shot that most people, including the GCU goalkeeper, thought was going high and wide.

Not so fast, said Hamzat as the ball dipped and curved suddenly, hit the post and then bounced in the net. GCU’s keeper hadn’t even moved a muscle, just watched in awe like the rest of the fans at Caniglia Field.

And just like that it was 2-1 Mavericks and the game was over. The only thing better than the shot was the reaction by Hamzat, who took off running before being dogpiled by his teammates.

“What a colossal goal; you won’t see a better college goal than that one right there,” head coach Jason Mims said after the game.

A crazy ending to an even crazier game. The contest seemed as if the Mavericks were down and out before the later stages of the game. In the first half, one of the country’s best players, GCU’s Niki Johnson, scored on a wonderful touch pass when he slid and met the ball with his foot, sending the ball like a laser past Omaha goalkeeper Joseph Ghitis to give GCU the lead. Coach Mims thought that the Mavericks played well in the first half, despite having minimal scoring chances.

“In the first half we gave them too much space to play, but in the second half we pushed our lines up higher and we were the better team.”

Whether fans want to admit it, the first half was scary for UNO. GCU controlled possession, had copious amounts of space and had many opportunities just miss. However, when the second half started, it looked like a whole new Omaha team on the pitch.

Suddenly, the game turned into back and forth warfare, each team pushing the tempo and creating scoring chances, only to be taken away by narrowly missed shots or outstanding saves. This was especially true for Omaha, who found themselves still without a goal in the 73rd minute. Just then, the Mavs caught themselves a break.

With the ball close to 40 yards out, Xavier Gomez was feeling himself and took a strike that looked like it had a chance from the very beginning. When the ball was approaching the goal, it backed up the Loper’s keeper, and he ended up catching the ball behind the goal line resulting in a UNO goal.

Suddenly, the whole atmosphere of the stadium, and the attitude of the Maverick’s players changed. Omaha was back in the game, and they were ready to seize the opening. After all of the chances that were narrowly missed, coach Mims said, “we deserved that goal, plain and simple.”

But what was most impressive was that after the goal the Mavericks were relentless until the final whistle of full time. They almost scored in the next minute when forward Elvir Ibisevic had a ball that bounced off the crossbar and the side post. There were many close calls but no second goal for Omaha. With the game tied at the end of regulation, the two teams headed to a golden-goal overtime period.

Ironically, the momentum was in the Lopers favor early in the overtime period. The ball was predominantly in the Omaha defensive end and Ghitis made a couple routine saves to keep their chances alive. That’s when the Mavs suddenly found themselves on offense, finding Hamzat up the field. The rest will go down in Maverick history as one of the best moments in UNO history.

Getting the win was huge, not only because it was the season opener, but because it provided a young Maverick team with hope and confidence.

“We have a ton of young guys, getting that win proves to these players that they are really good,” Mims said.

The Mavericks will welcome in nationally ranked Virginia Tech on Sunday, who just beat Creighton 2-0. With a tough game looming, Mims didn’t want to take the moment at hand for granted. “Let’s celebrate this one tonight and think about Virginia Tech tomorrow,” he said.

Well said, coach; but rest assured, this game isn’t going to be forgotten anytime soon.