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Akron Use Late Goal to Win Third-Straight MAC Championship

The Zips earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament by beating Bowling Green 2-1 in the MAC Championship game on Sunday and now await selection to contend for the national title.

The MAC Championship started off as a defensive battle but ended with a bang on a cold Sunday afternoon in Akron.
The MAC Championship started off as a defensive battle but ended with a bang on a cold Sunday afternoon in Akron.
Steve Bardens

Two minutes in the second half changed the landscape of the MAC Championship game in Akron on Sunday, but it was a goal 12 minutes later that truly determined the outcome of the game. Freshman Anthony Macchione latched on to senior Saad Abdul-Salaam's cross in the 79th minute and scored the winning goal as Akron defeated Bowling Green to claim its third-straight MAC Championship in as many years.

It was a chippy game at FirstEnergy Cub Cadet Field, as seven yellow cards were issued and a few more were let go. It was evident that each team knew the stakes and it translated to the play on the field, despite a slow start in the early minutes.

The game really came to life in the 66th minute a failed Akron corner led to a Falcon break down the middle. The Zips were able to stop the break but only with the help of a foul on the edge of the box. BGSU's Jacob Roth was called to take the free kick, and he duly put it past goalkeeper Jake Fenlason for the game's first goal in the 67th minute.

But while the Falcons were celebrating, the Zips were planning an equalizer and Akron earned a corner and took it in quick succession of the whistle to resume. Sophomore Adam Najem delivered the ball into the box and BGSU's Ryan James tripped one of the Zips in the box and made the referee point straight to the spot for a penalty.

Najem, who leads the team in scoring with 13 goals, stepped up and powered the penalty into the back of the net to set everything equal again within the same minute that the Falcons had thought they'd scored a winner. I mentioned in the preview that Najem would be important to Akron's chances of winning the MAC and that theory was confirmed as he swung momentum firmly in the way of the Zips.

The rest of the game was interesting for both sides as BGSU searched for an equalizer to take the game into overtime and the Zips tried to score a goal that would hand them a comfortable win. Ultimately both teams failed at their goal but Akron did create a few great chances that went unfinished in the last five minutes of play.

Coach Jared Embick now has another trophy to add to his growing cabinet of achievements after being an assistant to Caleb Porter for six years--during which the team went to two national championships and won one.

Now in his second year, Embick will embark into the NCAA Tournament unranked--a rarity for Akron--and await the selection show to see who his men will face on their journey to bring another national title to the MAC powerhouse.