COLUMBIA — The Columbia College men's soccer team lost only one game in American Midwest Conference play in 2011. That was a 2-0 loss to Hannibal-LaGrange, who went undefeated in AMC play and won the conference title by one game.
The Cougars ended last season with an overall record of 15-3-1, better than the Trojans. But after losing in the first round in the conference tournament to Park University, the Cougars saw themselves on the outside looking in when it came to the national tournament.
That loss to Hannibal-LaGrange might have cost the Cougars a bid to the national tournament, something that members of last year's team have not forgotten.
"It may not be stated, but we definitely remember that they were one of the reasons we didn't go to nationals last year," senior defender Dan Rapp said.
The Cougars had another crack at their conference rivals on a chilly night Wednesday and capitalized with a gritty 1-0 victory.
Junior forward Rafael Ramos scored his team-leading seventh goal of the season on a header off a free kick by senior midfielder Andres Acosta. The assist was Acosta's eighth, the most on the team.
The way the Cougars and the Trojans have played in recent years, Columbia College coach John Klein knew it would be a tough matchup. Columbia College is just 2-5-2 against Hannibal-LaGrange since 2005, and only one game has been decided by more than one goal in that time.
"I told the guys this was going to be like a national tournament game," Klein said. "Tonight was another step toward possibly getting a national at-large bid."
The game was physical and fast paced, and while both teams had chances, the end result came down to Ramos' goal early in the match.
In the 10th minute, Acosta took a free kick and sent it into the box. It found the head of Ramos, who leaped above the defenders and put the ball in the back of the goal. Ramos leaped into the air again after scoring, pumping his fist in celebration. He was soon met by Acosta and the rest of his teammates, who ran down the middle of the field as the celebration continued.
That proved to be the only celebration for the Cougars until after the game, with Columbia College outlasting a pressure-filled Hannibal-LaGrange attack for the rest of the game.
"That was a typical conference matchup tonight," Rapp said. "They're strong every year and always give us a tough match."
Columbia College, ranked eighth in the country in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, improved its record to 9-0-3 and 4-0-1 in conference play. Hannibal-LaGrange falls to 5-4 this season and 1-1 in conference play.
The Cougars are set to play against Dordt College at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at R. Marvin Owens Soccer Stadium.