AKRON, Ohio — Losing a penalty-kicks shootout ended Creighton's bid for a national championship in 2011. Winning one Sunday kept the Bluejays' title dreams alive in 2012.
Despite trailing most of the match and playing almost all of two overtime periods with 10 men, Creighton battled No. 1 Akron to a 1-1 tie. The Bluejays then won the shootout 5-4 to clinch a spot in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
“This is a special thing,” Creighton senior Andrew Ribeiro said. “After coming off something like last year, we want to go back (to the final four). Now, we have an opportunity to do so.
“We're excited with what we did today. We fought really hard — both teams did that — but we came out in the end.”
Creighton next plays at Connecticut on Sunday at noon in the Elite Eight.
Ribeiro was on the field last season when Creighton lost a shootout to Charlotte in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. He was one of five Bluejays who converted penalty kicks in Sunday's shootout with the Zips.
Akron went first in the shootout and got goals from its first three players. Creighton's first three kickers — Bruno Castro, Ribeiro and Sonny Makh — matched that, and the Bluejays got the advantage when Akron's Wil Trapp put his attempt high over the crossbar.
Creighton's Zach Barnes converted his attempt. Akron made its fifth kick, but CU freshman Timo Pitter ended the shootout when he beat Zips goalkeeper David Meves.
It was Pitter who had helped send the match to overtime when he scored in the 83rd minute, but goalkeeper Jeff Gal made sure the Bluejays got the game to the shootout.
Thirty seconds into the first overtime, Creighton's Jose Ribas was called for a handball in the box, resulting in a penalty kick. It also was Ribas' second yellow card of the match, resulting in a red-card disqualification if play continued.
It did when Gal knocked away Scott Caldwell's penalty kick.
“Stopping that PK in overtime was a huge confidence boost for me and for the team,” Gal said. “After that, we played sharp and held our own even being down a man. I applaud our guys for doing that.”
Gal came up with five other saves in the overtime, including highlight-reel stops on attempts by Caldwell and Thomas Schmitt that would have ended the match.
“I felt good, and I know the rest of the guys had a lot of confidence in me, too,” Gal said. “We just had an overall good performance.”
Akron, which had not lost this season at FirstEnergy Stadium, outshot Creighton 31-11, including a 10-2 edge in shots on goal. The Zips had an 11-2 edge in shots in the overtime periods.
“The stats are a little lopsided in Akron's favor, but in the end, all that matters is whether you push the ball across the line,” Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich said. “I know how they feel. We've been in that situation before.
“They played a heck of a game and were a little unlucky, but our defense also was tremendous. We worked our butts off, especially when we were one man down. Jeff played an outstanding game, and everyone gave a tremendous effort.”
Akron put Creighton in a 1-0 hole in the 12th minute when Reinaldo Brenes chipped a shot over Gal. The Zips were able to protect the lead until Pitter found himself one-on-one with Meves, beating the Akron goalkeeper for his 10th goal of the season.
Ribeiro “gave me an awesome pass, and I was free in front of the goalie,” Pitter said. “I just put it in.”
The match officially goes into the books as a tie, leaving Creighton with a 16-3-3 record but extending its unbeaten streak to 13 matches. Akron ends its season 18-1-3.
“In the end, this team never gave up on themselves,” Bolowich said. “It was an outstanding effort by the entire team.”
Contact the writer:
402-679-2298, email@example.com; twitter.com/PivOWH