Written by: Billyle Alman, Michael Kroodsma
In front of a sellout crowd of more than 2,600 fans, Sunday’s Big Bear matchup was nothing short of a heartbreaker. Just as the game seemed destined for a breakthrough, Captain Billy Stevens was (unfortunately, and probably incorrectly) sent off. Left with 10-men and just 20 minutes to go, the game naturally shifted and State were once again in the ascendancy. Michigan, however, refused to crumble.
The introduction of Jackson Reagan at the back in place of Jack Hallahan brought more solidity and the Wolverines held firm to force overtime. What could have been a confidence building draw was washed away in the final minute of the match when East Lansing’s very own DeJuan Jones stepped up and buried Michigan State’s final chance, Spartans win 0-1.
It is important to note that both Francis Atuahene and Mohammed Zakyi started on the bench once again for the Wolverines. Their impact was felt as reserves as they both played extended minutes. The question is, and more importantly for Francis, is he still not fit to start? As a returning All Big-Ten player you have to wonder if even at 75%, Francis should be playing the opening minutes of the remaining matches.
Michigan played it's second top-ten ranked program in a span of 5 days. The Wolverines forced overtime in both meetings. Despite Michigan looking flat for long stretches on Wednesday and again on Sunday, these were two winnable encounters. The fact that we're saying this about matches against two Big Ten (and national) powerhouses shows just how far this team has come since last season.
Two things stand out. First, both results this week prove that this U of M side is a real contender in both the Big Ten and on the national stage. Indiana was the number 1 ranked team in the nation on Wednesday,(while MSU was ranked number 6), and earning an away draw in Bloomington will mean a lot to this young Wolverines side.
Second, the loss to MSU will be a turning point for Chaka Daley's side moving forward. Losing hurts, especially when it's your first of the year. Especially when it's at home. Especially when it's against your arch rival. Especially when it's in the final minute of overtime.
With far more talent than experience, the younger players will learn from this moment. The coming matches should see the aggressiveness increase. Michigan travels to Kalamazoo Wednesday to face a red hot Western Michigan side. The Wolverines are still without a marquee road win and a prime opportunity has been provided in their next match. With the Maryland match looming late in the season, U of M will no doubt be looking to gain as much momentum as possible heading into the second half of the season.