Thank goodness for Mitch McFarlane.
Friday night in Victoria, the first-year goalkeeper for the UNBC Timberwolves men's soccer team was spectacular between the pipes and gave his team a chance to win its inaugural game in the Canada West Universities Athletic Association. McFarlane's brilliance, however, wasn't enough to steal a victory for UNBC. The Timberwolves were dominated territorially by the University of Victoria Vikes and fell by a 3-1 score.
"We knew that we were going to have to absorb a lot of pressure and absorb it we did, and Mitch came up huge behind us," said UNBC coach Alan Alderson. "I'm incredibly excited for him, and the boys were psyched as well because they know that he did a fantastic job."
The Vikes, defending national champions and the top-ranked team in Canadian Interuniversity Sport, scored their first two goals in the opening 10 minutes of the game. With the T-wolves looking nervous and showing some panic in front of 2,300 fans, UVic's Craig Taylor took advantage and converted in the second minute. Then, at the nine-minute mark, Craig Gorman of the Vikes hammered a long left-footed shot into the bottom corner of the UNBC net, behind a helpless McFarlane.
The Vikes continued to control the play for the entire half but were stymied time and again by McFarlane, a product of the Prince George Youth Soccer Association.
Moments before the half-time whistle -- and very much against the flow of the play -- UNBC's Danny Dell scored the historic first Canada West goal for the T-wolves. Dell jumped on a turnover in the Vikes' end and, with a 25-yard blast, beat a surprised Elliot Mitrou in the UVic net.
By the end of the half, the Vikes had out-chanced the Timberwolves 14-3.
The T-wolves were much more composed in the second half and were able to cut down the number of scoring opportunities for the Vikes. Still, McFarlane was called upon to make several big stops, and he kept making them. In the 89th minute, with UNBC still in position to try for the tie, he used a diving save to rob Cameron Stokes of a sure goal.
The Vikes finally got an insurance marker in added time when Taylor successfully deflected a shot by Gavin Barrett.
Overall, Alderson was pleased that his team kept the result in doubt until the very end.
"There were brief moments where we stood up to the defending national champions and we started to play a little bit," Alderson said. "That was important for us to be able to do, especially in the second half after weathering the storm in the first half."
The Timberwolves and Vikes will meet again today (7:15 p.m.) in Victoria.
Also today, the UNBC women's soccer team will make its debut in Canada West. The female Timberwolves are in Winnipeg to face the University of Winnipeg Wesmen. The game will start at 2 p.m. Pacific time.
Games can be viewed online at www.canadawest.tv.