ALBUQUERQUE • Kevin Durr tied it with 16 seconds left, then the Air Force Academy men’s soccer team outlasted New Mexico in overtime penalty kicks Sunday to win 2-1 as the Falcons earned their first NCAA Tournament bid in 15 years.
“It’s been too long,” Air Force coach Doug Hill said. “It’s been way too long.”
The Falcons (10-8-4), seeded fourth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, beat the host and top seed Lobos (16-3-1) three times this season. (Officially, the game counts as a tie.)
“The third time is the best, third time is the charm,” Hill said.
Air Force converted all five of its kicks, with Scott McGillivray clinching it to set off a celebration on the field. New Mexico’s Michael Calderon, kicking fourth for the Lobos, clanked his attempt off the crossbar and over, setting the stage for McGillivray’s game-winner.
“We knew that if we could stick around long enough we could be able to win this thing,” goalkeeper Matt Underwood said. “We don’t play pretty.”
Just effectively, especially against New Mexico, which entered the match ranked ninth.
“They’re a real talented team and we all know that,” Underwood said.
“They play well. So we like to limit their long balls and then defend like hell and hopefully sometimes get a goal and we did that.”
For nearly 90 minutes, however, it appeared like that elusive NCAA berth was going to slip away after the Lobos scored in the 30th minute.
“We had to weather the storm the first half,” Hill said.
After halftime, Air Force picked up its pressure and got its first shot of the game, a volley from Durr that New Mexico goalkeeper Patrick Poblete was able to push just over the crossbar.
But Poblete could do nothing with Durr’s equalizer, which came shortly after a foul deep in the New Mexico end.
The service bounced around the penalty area before a poor clearance from a Lobos defender fell to Durr about 20 yards out. He saw a bit of daylight and let it rip.
“I actually had more space than I thought,” he said. “I just saw this small gap over the goalie and I hit it as hard as I could and it went on goal.”
With time almost gone, somebody had to step up for the Falcons, he said.
“Well, I knew was that it was the last minute of the game and if I don’t take a shot now, we won’t get a another shot,” Durr said. “So I took it and it was one of my best shots of the season.”
Air Force continued to pressure in the overtime periods but could not connect, but the team felt good about its chances in the penalty kicks.
“We were very confident because we practice a lot of PKs,” Durr said.
“We had very confident shooters. We had no doubts. I don’t really want to say it that way but we were confident going PKs.”
New Mexico Jeremy Fishbein, who applauded the Falcons throughout the trophy ceremony, said Air Force earned its victory.
”Air Force, pretty impressive,” he said. “Three games in four days. They had a lot of heart.
“Somehow they’ve just got our number this year. Credit to them. They did a great job.”
Durr was named the tournament’s most valuable player while Jake Jones and Underwood (three saves) were named to the all-tournament team. The Falcons will learn their NCAA bracket fate Monday.