COLUMBIA — The 8th-ranked Columbia College men's soccer team needed a hero to avoid an upset and get past Missouri Baptist on Tuesday.
After playing 87 minutes, the Cougars found themselves tied 1-1 with the Spartans at R. Marvin Owens Soccer Stadium. The Cougars found their hero when junior forward Jovan Ilic scored the winning goal on a diving header off of a corner kick.
After he saw he had scored, Ilic emerged from the scrum in front of the net and ripped his jersey off. He was quickly chased down and tackled to the ground by his teammate Andres Acosta, who had fed Ilic the corner kick that led to the goal. The rest of the Cougars players on the field mobbed Ilic in celebration.
Amanda Caldwell, a sophomore midfielder on the Cougars' women's soccer team, was in the stands and shouted, "Jovan, you're my hero," to which Ilic responded by blowing a kiss.
After the game, Ilic, who was making his first start as a forward of the season, revealed a more personal message delivered by the goal. His roommate, sophomore midfielder Liam Cain, is likely sidelined for the year after suffering a torn meniscus in his knee during practice. Ilic's shirt under his jersey read, "Get better soon brother #16," referencing Cain's number.
In addition to sending a message to his fallen teammate, Ilic said the goal meant a lot to him personally.
"I wanted that goal so bad. I was shaking on the bench wanting to get back in the game," he said. "Now I can't wait to play our next game."
Despite the dramatic victory, Cougars coach John Klein said he was not pleased with the way his team played. He didn't like his team's effort and energy level offensively and was frustrated with hard fouls near the end of the game.
The Cougars (7-0-2, 2-0 in American Midwest Conference play) are ranked eighth in the latest NAIA polls and are one of seven undefeated teams in the NAIA. Klein knows that opposing teams will be gunning for the Cougars to try and pull the upset.
He said his team narrowly avoided such an upset on Tuesday.
"This is the kind of game that, had we tied, we would have lost some respect across the country," Klein said. "Hopefully this will be a wake up call for our guys."
Columbia College got the lead in the 28th minute with a goal from junior midfielder Antonio Ayres.
The Cougars were able to hold the lead until Missouri Baptist's (1-7, 0-1 in AMC play) leading scorer, senior forward Danny Traylor, broke through the defense in the 71st minute to tie the game at one. Ilic's header then sealed the game in regulation 16 minutes later.
Columbia College plays next against Williams Baptist at 3 p.m. Friday in Walnut Ridge, Ark.
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.