By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
The No. 4 Bulls made sure they got to keep the entire Big East Red Division title to themselves Monday afternoon.
USF didn’t allow a shot in two overtime periods and came away with a 0-0 tie against Rutgers in Newark, N.J., to wrap up a stellar regular season. Rutgers needed a victory to grab its own share of the title but failed against the Bulls, who ensured themselves of at least part of the divisional crown last week at home.
“That was very important to the guys in the locker room. We didn’t want to share it,” USF head coach George Kiefer said. “I give Rutgers a lot of credit. They are a good team.”
USF (12-2-3, 7-0-2) made program history by becoming the Bulls’ first men’s soccer team to go undefeated in the regular season of Big East play. The Bulls also became only the third Big East team in the past 15 years to accomplish the feat.
“Not only do you play tough teams, but you also have to navigate through weather. You have to navigate through facilities with sports grass. Some fields are narrow, so it’s not just teams you have to play in the Big East, but a lot of other elements that go into it,” said Kiefer, whose team has not lost since Sept. 16.
The Bulls had to do a lot of navigating just to get the chance to keep the whole title to themselves.
USF’s original flight was a direct departure to the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on Saturday night, but it was rerouted to Boston because of weather. The Bulls sat on the plane in Boston for about four hours until a small window of opportunity opened up to land in JFK on a small runway.
The Bulls flew through a snowstorm into JFK and drove to New Jersey only to find out Sunday morning that their scheduled 1 p.m. game was postponed because the field was covered in snow and ice.
Rutgers had to find a field that was good enough to play on with most of the facilities in New Jersey needing to be plowed. The school found a venue in Newark, N.J., at the New Jersey Institute of Technology for an 11 a.m. start Monday.
“I think Rutgers did a really good job dealing with the situation and finding NJIT because at the end of the day, it turned out to be a good surface to play on,” Kiefer said.
The Bulls stayed prepared for the game by training Sunday night in Rutgers’ basketball facility on the gym floor and Kiefer credited USF’s leadership for keeping the team mentally focused.
“They just have a belief that they can win on any surface in any weather,” Kiefer said. “They just like challenges and this just presented another challenge for them.”
Monday’s game presented very few opportunities for the Bulls to score and Kevin McMullen didn’t help USF out at all. The Rutgers keeper made four saves and three of them were very superb.
“He made three saves in the game where I left the bench thinking we had scored,” Kiefer said. “I even had to ask an assistant on two of them how he saved that. I give him a lot of credit for keeping them in it.”
USF excelled in keeping Rutgers away from its net thanks to the Bulls’ offense controlling the ball and keeping the pressure upfield.
“We did a good job about where we were playing balls in the overtimes,” Kiefer said. “It’s difficult for another team to get a chance on you if you keep possession of the ball.”
USF senior keeper Chris Blais only had to make one save on the way to earning his seventh shutout of the season.
“We’re not happy we tied the game, but we’ll take it and move on,” Kiefer said.
USF now gets a much deserved rest before continuing its conference run.
The Bulls have earned a first-round bye in the Big East Tournament and get a chance to host a quarterfinal game 1 p.m. Sunday at Corbett Soccer Stadium against an undetermined opponent.
To purchase tickets for the Big East Tournament quarterfinal, follow this link.