The fierce rivalry between Georgia Southern University and Mercer University men’s soccer programs was revived once more on Thursday evening at GSU’s home opener. The two schools that are separated by a small stretch of I-16 have competed against one another for years. GSU narrowly leads the series at 23-23-0, but Mercer looked to even up the record with a win in the shadow of Paulson Stadium.
The first half began with straightforward attacking by Mercer and more buildup play by GSU. Neither team gave much ground in the opening minutes. GSU played a very tight line, catching Mercer offside four times throughout the night.
GSU dominated possession and shots in the first half, outshooting Mercer 5-2. The big forwards for the Bears were dominant in the air, but could not capitalize on their size advantage over a very solid Eagle’s defense. Two yellow cards were dolled out to the big Mercer forwards (Carson Brooks and Will Bagrou) in the opening half, limiting the physicality of the large target forwards. Neither team had a legitimate scoring opportunity in the first half and no shots really tested either keeper.
The Bears began the second half with a more aggressive attacking style. They were more dangerous in the final third and carried the ball up the wings rather than rely on their aerial big men. However, both teams let up after the 60th minute and very little happened. Players began to cramp up and touches on the ball became sloppy. GSU’s David Vargas was creative and deft on the ball, but was not backed up by any of his teammates. He had a strike on goal in the 80th minute that finally woke everyone back up. Minutes later, Mercer attempted a quick free kick that GSU goalkeeper Jack Falle had to parry away for a corner.
Both teams frenetically ran around the field in the final five minutes, but neither could score, ending regulation in a 0-0 draw. The game then went into two 10 minute golden goal overtimes. If one teams scores, it’s over.
The OT’s were full of attacking chances that had eluded both teams during regulation. Mercer had several free kicks from 25-30 yards out that threatened the Eagle’s net. A Mercer shot rattled off the cross bar in the 98th, while GSU’s Jeremy Rector nearly headed home the winner on the other end off a corner. The game became much more open, but the first OT ended still tied at 0-0. The 109th minute saw the one and only goal of the game. With time running out, a Mercer throw in on the far side was flicked into the penalty area. The flick dropped to an awaiting Bagrou, who whipped a right-footed shot into the top right corner of the net to give Mercer the 1-0 win with 1:09 left on the clock.
GSU plays next vs. UNC Ashville at 5:00 p.m. on September 12 at Eagle Field