Double overtime heroics propel Cats to NCAA Second Round


Kentucky sophomore forward Jason Reyes hugs a teammate after the University of Kentucky vs. Loyola-Chicago NCAA Tournament soccer game on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019, at The Bell Soccer Complex in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 2-1 in the second overtime period. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

Jason Reyes and Eythor Bjorgolfsson didn’t want their season to end.

Reyes kicked a game-tying goal with less than 10 minutes to go in Kentucky’s First Round NCAA Tournament matchup against the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers on Thursday night. The freshman Bjorgolfsson then capped off the whirlwind comeback with a header goal just seconds into double overtime to give the Cats an improbable 2-1 victory on a wet, rainy pitch at The Bell.

No. 19 Kentucky knew the stakes were on the line. Despite playing what was a frustrating game up until Reyes’ goal, UK coach Johan Cedergren said that his team eventually found a rhythm that ended up clicking with the game-tying mark.

“When they [Loyola-Chicago] set back and they gave us a whole half to operate in, I think again we started getting comfortable. We started moving the ball. We had some chances. We hit the cross bar. We hit the post,” Cedergren said. 

Neither the Cats nor the Ramblers had the strongest entrances right out of the gate. For the first 35 minutes, the Ramblers had just one shot while the Cats had none. Both teams combined for 13 fouls – eight of them on Loyola-Chicago, including a yellow card on Ramblers’ midfielder Aidan Megally.

The Ramblers eventually struck gold in the 35th minute when Andrew Mitchell got an assist courtesy of Aidan Megally and Justin Sukow. That encapsulated a rarely downplayed first half by UK. For the first time all year long, UK had no shots in the first half. Aside from a corner kick, several driving attempts down the field were almost instantly snapped.

But things finally came together after halftime. 

The ladle started churning on offense. Shot after shot after shot, Loyola-Chicago could feel the pressure and energy that the Cats kept bringing. Ramblers’ goalkeeper Marcel Kampman went into overtime to recover his two saves in the half. Furthermore, the Ramblers were unable to march downfield with the same intensity as the first half.

If you ask Aime Mabika, the offense and defense complemented one another.

“Some of the good offense that we had had come from how we were playing defensively. So, if we lost the ball in the first half, we could see the difference in the first half and the second half,” Mabika said. “In the second half, as soon as we lost the ball, we were trying to get it back as quickly as possible and that’s how we got a lot of our chances.”

After a foul call on the Ramblers in the 82nd minute, the Cats were awarded with a penalty kick. Reyes stepped up for the kick as he signed, sealed and delivered the ball away from the polar opposite direction of Kampman into the net to tie the game. Kentucky outshot Loyola-Chicago 8-2 in the second half and 3-0 in the first overtime period. The first overtime was relatively trite for both teams. But just 56 minutes into the second overtime, sweet jubilee swept over the slippery pitch. 

After breaking away from several defenders, Bjorgolfsson got a good look on a header after an assist from Robert Screen. He punched it in for the win. As players and coaches stormed the field with excitement and passion, Bjorgolfsson, who was substituted into the game, said that he wanted Cedergen to put him into the game.

The moment was fitting for all.

“I was feeling really good and I just needed a cross and I felt confident that I would head it in. So, when I saw Robert Screen was running down the line with the ball, I saw I was open. So I told him before the second overtime to just cross it in and I mean, I was confident it was going in,” Bjorgolfsson said.

Kentucky (13-4-3, 4-2-1) will head to Bloomington, Indiana to take on the No. 5 seed Indiana Hoosiers this coming Sunday at noon. Both teams squared off earlier in the year and tied. Loyola-Chicago(10-6-2, 5-3-2) will begin its offseason after ending a memorable tournament run.