With two storied programs battling for the Big Ten regular season title, anything could happen.
No. 8 Maryland men’s soccer seemed out of sorts for most of its match on Sunday, resulting in the Terps facing a one-goal deficit with just four minutes remaining on the road at Indiana.
In desperation mode, redshirt sophomore forward Joshua Bolma booted the ball 20 yards through the air to the edge of the goal area.
Standing at six-foot-two, junior forward Stefan Copetti jumped up and headed the ball toward the net. The ball sailed over Indiana junior goalkeeper JT Harms’ head and into the net, tying the score at one with just over three minutes remaining.
The Terps’ defense held strong through the final minutes of the match to tie the last game of the season, 1-1, and clinch the Big Ten regular-season championship thanks to the legendary heroics of Copetti.
A draw was all the Terps needed to clinch their 24th conference title and first since 2016 because of a loss by second-place Ohio State. Maryland, having finished the regular season with a 9-2-5 record, can now shift its focus to the upcoming Big Ten Tournament, during which it will be the top seed.
“Obviously, I’m incredibly happy for our players for the toughness and resilience that they showed in finding a way to score that great goal at the end that gave us the Big Ten title,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We knew with about 10 minutes to go that a ties all we needed, so we pushed more players forward and we got rewarded appropriately.”
Nerves were high to begin the match as the Terps were playing in a hostile environment.
Indiana seized control early and created multiple opportunities. The first shot of the game came in the third minute, as sophomore forward Samuel Sarver drove into the 18-yard box. Maryland’s backline held strong, however, deflecting his shot.
The Hoosiers recorded their first shot on goal in the eighth minute, nearly breaking through the Terps’ defense. Indiana junior defender Joey Maher headed a corner kick toward the top right corner of the net, but senior goalkeeper Niklas Neumann reached up and swatted the ball away.
After this opportunity, the Terps began to counter. Their first shot of the game came in the 11th minute as only two Indiana defenders stood in front of three Terps. Freshman defender Luca Costabile dribbled down the sideline and toward the box.
With Bolma and senior forward Hunter George trailing, Costabile passed the ball into the center of the box. The pass was just behind George, who was not able to gain full control of the ball before sailing it over the net.
Indiana regained possession over the next 10 minutes and continued its relentless attack.
Then, when Maryland continued to make crucial mistakes, the Hoosiers capitalized. After failing to convert on two free kicks, Indiana scored on the third one. Senior midfielder Malcolm Johnston tripped Sarver on the edge of the box, giving redshirt senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink a golden opportunity. From about 23 yards out, Wittenbrink nailed the free kick at the top left corner of the net where Neumann was unable to reach it, scoring the first goal of the game in the 25th minute.
In the 34th minute, Cirovski subbed in freshman forward Colin Griffith, hoping the newcomer could give the Terps a spark. Griffith attempted a shot in the 40th minute, but Indiana goalkeeper JT Harms scooped up the ball with ease.
The final shot of the first half came in the 45th minute as Harms saved senior defender Chris Rindov’s header.
The first half did not go as expected for the Terps, as they played sloppier than usual. Despite this, Maryland still outshot Indiana, 5-4, but failed to make any of them count.
After Cirovski made some adjustments during the intermission, the Terps entered the second half energized.
In the latter half, Copetti received the ball from redshirt senior defender Nick Richardson and instantly fired it at the net. Harms made a diving save to keep Maryland off the scoreboard and protect the Hoosiers’ lead.
Copetti’s goal with just a few minutes to go in the match proved to be the difference for Maryland to earn the tie, which is all it needed to win the Big Ten regular-season crown.
Three things to know
1. The Terps were sloppy. With the Big Ten regular-season title on the line, it seemed as though Maryland let the pressure get to it. The Terps played careless on both sides of the pitch as they continuously turned the ball over on offense, and then gifted Indiana opportunities on defense. This style of play nearly led to the Terps’ demise.
2. Copetti saves the Terps. The junior did not play much to begin his first season in College Park after transferring from Marist, but Copetti continued to work and earned a starting spot over the last five games of the season. Just like he had done all season, Copetti refused to quit and scored the most important goal of an exciting season for the Terps.
“I just [have a] never give up mentality,” Copetti said. “We knew we were in the game. We were getting a lot of chances in the second half too. It was just a matter of the ball going in the back of the net, and I was able to do it and help the guys out, and win a championship.”
3. Maryland will be the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Since Maryland tied Indiana and Wisconsin defeated Ohio State, the Terps will hold the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament for the first time in six seasons. Maryland battled all season to be in a situation to determine its own fate, and the Terps came through when it mattered most. The Big Ten Tournament will run through College Park with the first match set for Friday.
“We’re certainly hopeful that not only The Crew, but Terp Nation, the community, comes out and supports us because this is a group worth supporting,” Cirovski said.