DeKALB — For a second the action froze and the lights lit up Tuesday for Enrique Banuelos, Huskie redshirt first-year forward, when he scored on a free kick to give the Huskies a 1-0 overtime win at home against the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.
Milwaukee had strong defending throughout the game and allowed the Huskies only one shot on goal. The one shot was the eventual game-winner, which helped NIU retain the LeWang Trophy.
Since 2005, the Huskies have lost six times to the Panthers but have taken five wins, including Tuesday’s victory.
Although Milwaukee isn’t a Mid-American Conference foe, Head Coach Ryan Swan said the clash is played like one.
“This game has the feel of a conference game,” Swan said. “They’re our local rival, and we’re playing for a trophy.”
Swan said Milwaukee was a good team and tough to break down.
Swan said although the Panthers defended well, scoring frustrations were not an issue.
“I was hammering into the guys that if we stick to our game plan, stick to what we’re good at, the opportunities will come,” Swan said.
Swan said even though tactical changes have been a main focus on the team, he is impressed with the way his players have learned to tweak their game.
Swan said he is happy everything has come together, even though it meant the team would struggle early on.
In the 91st minute, junior midfielder Alex Welch picked up a foul outside of the 18-yard-box, setting Banuelos up for the game winner.
Redshirt first-year goalkeeper Martin Sanchez earned his first clean sheet as a Huskie, as well as NIU’s first clean sheet of the season. The Huskie posted four saves on 15 shots faced.
“It feels amazing,” Sanchez said. “We’ve been looking for it in every game, but there’s been something missing. It feels good to finally get it.”
Banuelos’ goal is his first of the season, and his first collegiate goal since transferring to NIU from University of Virginia.
“It’s a goal you dream about,” Banuelos said. “When you practice free-kicks in training, you dream about a goal like this.”
Banuelos said when stepping up to take the shot, his focus was counting the steps and making contact with the ball.
The Huskie forward went in as a sub at the 84th minute of the match and attempted a shot before it sailed wide right. Banuelos said he was ready before his number was called.
“When I’m on the bench, I’m visualizing what I’m going to do when I step in and hopefully score,” Banuelos said.
Sanchez earned his third start of the season between the posts and made his presence known early on.
The Huskie showcased his quick reflexes nine minutes into the match when Milwaukee senior forward Evan Conway’s shot took a deflection before the Huskie goalkeeper turned his body for a last-effort save.
The Huskie was vocal throughout the match, showing his leadership skills from his backline. Sanchez said that is a huge part of his game.
“My coach always tells me to keep talking to my players,” Sanchez said. “To keep motivating them throughout the 90 minutes and more, so that we keep on fighting to win the game.”
Sanchez again kept his goal spotless in 20th minute on a dead ball after junior midfielder Vuk Latinovich attempted to sneak his shot around the Huskie wall.
The Huskies came close to opening the score in the 33rd minute when sophomore forward Nick Markanich tried a cross into the Milwaukee six-yard box where senior forward Jans Maertins failed to connect.
Sophomore defender Pierce Uguarte had NIU’s second chance at goal, but his header went just over the crossbar.
The second half was a hard battle in the middle third of the field; however, neither team provided a second-half spark.
The Huskies controlled the better part of the half, but didn’t manage a solid shot on goal. Markanich attempted a bicycle kick, but his attempt sailed over. the crossbar
Sanchez came in clutch again with a low-right save, cradling a Milwaukee shot.
NIU has three consecutive wins and will have a chance to earn another Saturday when it plays Western Illinois University.
Since 2005, the Huskies and Leathernecks have met six times. NIU has taken five of the matches including the last two.
The Leathernecks are winless this season at 0-7 including three losses at home. WIU will play Thursday against Missouri State University.
Kick off is set for 1 p.m. at John MacKenzie Alumni Field in Macomb.