By TOM ZEBOLD
USF Senior Writer
TAMPA – Heavy rain and a strong St. John’s defense couldn’t stop the Bulls from staying atop the Big East’s Red Division on Saturday night.
Dom Dwyer scored two goals, including the game-winner, in the No. 14 USF men’s soccer team’s 3-2 victory over the No. 8 Red Storm before a crowd 877 that celebrated the Bulls’ new home officially being named Corbett Soccer Stadium.
“With the pouring rain, the heavy winds, the battle, it wasn’t as much about the X’s and O’s tonight,” USF head coach George Kiefer said. “It was about heart, passion and work. I thought the USF guys didn’t really well with that tonight.”
USF (7-2-2, 2-0-1 Big East) won for the fourth time in its past five games (one tie) and all four victories have come against ranked opponents.
Saturday’s victory was extra special with Cornelia and Richard Corbett loudly cheering the team on from the press box on their special night. The Corbetts made the lead gift for USF’s new stadium and the Bulls continue to appreciate their continuous dedication to the program.
“Cornelia came down to the field and gave me a big hug. That meant a lot because she has done a lot for our program,” Kiefer said. “On her night, we definitely wanted to win this match.”
The Bulls did it in comeback fashion.
St. John’s has been the aggressor in a majority of its games this season and the philosophy paid off early Saturday night.
Pablo Battuto Punyed fired a shot in traffic from about 35 yards out and beat a diving USF keeper Chris Blais in the top right corner of the net to give the Red Storm a 1-0 lead in the 12th minute.
That woke up the USF offense, which used the same type of game plan to tie things up in the 23rd minute. Leston Paul got a long pass from Ashani Fairclough in the midst of a group of defenders and put home his fourth goal of the season.
“He got us back into it. We were on our heels a little bit and Leston just banged it like he does,” Dwyer said. “He does it in training all the time and he’s a great player.”
USF dug the longball once more before the break.
Dwyer, the Bulls’ most dangerous goal scorer, backed up his reputation in the 33rd minute by taking a long downfield pass from Lucas Baldin, weaving between two defenders and beating St. John’s keeper Rafael Diaz to give USF a 2-1 halftime lead. It marked Dwyer’s ninth goal of his debut season as a Bull.
“I got a nice first touch, got inside and luckily it hit in the corner,” Dwyer said.
Just like in the first half, St. John’s struck first almost five minutes into the second thanks to Walter Hines’ ability to score in a crowd and tie things up at 2.
And just like in the first half, the Bulls had an answer for the Red Storm (7-3-2).
With the rain pounding down hard on the USF offense, freshman Wesley Charpie maneuvered around defenders after a strong shot by Kevin Olali and patiently passed to Dwyer with the keeper pulled out of position. Dwyer smoked his shot in between defenders with the keeper helpless and gave the lead back to the Bulls in the 71st minute.
“Dom just beat him with power,” Kiefer said. “He blasted it and I don’t think Diaz had a chance at that one.”
Dwyer’s 10th goal marked USF’s most in a single season since Jordan Seabrook had 14 in the 2005 campaign.
“It made us understand that we were going to win the game at that point,” Kiefer said.
USF gets another chance to keep its hot play going at home. The Bulls face DePaul on Wednesday with the first kick scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Corbett Soccer Stadium.