Kizza’s double OT tiebreaker puts Pitt past Denver, 3-2

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Kizza’s double OT tiebreaker puts Pitt past Denver, 3-2

Junior forward Edward Kizza (9) drives towards Denver’s goal to score the game-winning point in overtime. Pitt won 3-2.

Junior forward Edward Kizza (9) drives towards Denver’s goal to score the game-winning point in overtime. Pitt won 3-2.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Junior forward Edward Kizza (9) drives towards Denver’s goal to score the game-winning point in overtime. Pitt won 3-2.

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Thomas Yang | Assistant Visual Editor

Junior forward Edward Kizza (9) drives towards Denver’s goal to score the game-winning point in overtime. Pitt won 3-2.

By Alex Lehmbeck, Staff Writer

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After an ugly first half, it looked like the Pitt men’s soccer team was en route to a sloppy, boring loss to the University of Denver Pioneers at home on Monday night. But an explosive second half, strong defense and a well-timed final play resulted in the Panthers pulling out a 3-2 thriller in double overtime.

Pitt (4-3-2) came into Monday’s match looking to start a new win streak after a long, gritty 1-1 double-overtime draw at ACC rival Syracuse on Friday. The Pioneers (1-6-2) entered Monday in the midst of an early-season slump after earning an NCAA tournament bid with a 15-4-2 record in 2018.

Although this was the first time the two teams met, the matchup was especially significant for Pitt head coach Jay Vidovich, who began his coaching career as an assistant for the Pioneers in 1982.

“I think about for the last 15 years my assistants have been there,” Vidovich said. “It’s been a whole group of players there. Fortunately, it’s been a long time that I’ve had that connection, but I did get to go back, when they were in the Final Four I think two years ago. I saw some of the old alums. It’s still great to see.”

Denver’s fifth-year head coach Jamie Franks actually played for Vidovich at Wake Forest, and was a key member of Vidovich’s 2007 national championship title run.

“I’m proud of what [Franks] did, the belief that the team has and the commitment to playing is special,” Vidovich said. “I don’t think you ever really want to play a friend. If you win, you don’t feel great. If you lose, you don’t feel very good either. It’s a tough one.”

If you’re a fan of quality offense, then the first half was a snooze-fest. Both teams struggled to put together any good chances, with the first shot on goal coming on a Denver header in the 31st minute. Pitt entered the match fifth in the country in shots on goal, but managed just one in the first half. A sloppy end to the first half allowed Denver, who ranks 187th in the country in that category, to put up four shots on goal in the first half alone.

“We’re definitely a team that is capable of playing a lot better than we did and we’ve shown that in past games against tougher teams,” sophomore Jackson Walti said. “We just didn’t come out firing and we created all the problems for ourselves.”

In the 41st minute, Pitt goalkeeper Arie Ammann made a diving stop on a shot from junior Destan Norman, but first-year midfielder Kengo Ohira put away the rebound to give Denver a 1-0 lead at the break.

Pitt came out in the second half like a brand-new team. The Panthers quickly forced pressure on the Pioneer defense, culminating in a beautiful volley strike by first-year midfielder Valentin Noel — the first goal of his career — off a cross from junior Sito Sena. Four minutes later, Sena scored one himself to give the Panthers their first lead of the game, 2-1.

“Coach was able to fire us up,” Walti said. “We realized that we weren’t playing to our ability, and he reminded us what we’re here for.”

Denver wouldn’t go away just yet. A goal from sophomore Stefan DeLeone tied the game at two apiece in the 69th minute, and neither team could break the tie for the rest of regulation. The multitude of combined shots in the second half marked a stark change from the first half.

Pitt had a few chances in the first overtime period, but were not able to convert. For the second straight match, the Panthers were going to a second overtime — and Denver could actually say the same.

“We also have to remember that [Denver] played a day after [the Syracuse match],” Walti said. “They also finished in a tie in double overtime. We had the advantage over them, so it’s not something to be proud of that we pushed past. They had it tougher than we did.”

Pitt junior forward Edward Kizza, who scored the most goals per game in Pitt history last season, had been in somewhat of a slump the last couple weeks. Though Kizza began the 2019 campaign with four goals in the first four matches, he was held scoreless over the last four. His cold streak came to an end at the perfect time, though, as he nudged a bouncing ball over the outstretched arms of Denver’s keeper in the 107th minute, giving his squad the 3-2 win.

“The big thing is just to get my form back,” Kizza said. “It’s been a couple of games without a goal, and I just needed one for me. It doesn’t matter that it wasn’t a good goal, but it crossed the line.”

Pitt plays the second match of its four-match home stand on Friday against North Carolina, ranked No. 14 in the nation.

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