If this match is any indication of the rivalry possibilities between Winthrop and Gardner-Webb, fans are in for some wild times.
The Winthrop men's soccer team defeated Gardner-Webb 2-1 on Thursday in a battle for first place in the Big South.
The Eagles improved to 12-4 overall and 5-1 in the conference. The Bulldogs fell to 6-10 and 5-3.
To call the game intense is a bit of an understatement. Combined, the teams were called for 45 fouls. Six yellow cards were shown, three for each team. Gardner-Webb defender Eric Asanin-Miroux crashed hard into Winthrop's Daniel Revivo in the first half. Asanin-Miroux watched the rest of the match from the sidelines, on crutches.
"Just knowing what was at stake. This was Gardner-Webb's first chance to win a (Big South) championship. It was certainly the most intense game this year," Winthrop coach Rich Posipanko said.
Gardner-Webb coach Tony Setzer said playing Winthrop has always been a rivalry. "It means a little more now being in the conference. This was for first place."
Gardner-Webb joined the Big South this season after six years in the Atlantic Sun.
"I guess we're a little more passionate about this game now that we're in the league," Setzer said.
Winthrop took the lead in the 43rd minute on a free kick. Michael Luk lofted the kick from about 40 yards into the 18-yard box. Henry Kalungi headed it high into the goal for his first of the season.
Gardner-Webb responded quickly with an almost-mirror-image goal in the 44th minute. Winthrop's Matt Lacey was called for a foul.
Bulldogs forward Bradley Morrison took the free kick from about 40 yards out. Teammate Miguel Pinzon flicked a header over Eagles goalkeeper Patrick Mitrovich for the equalizer.
Winthrop scored the game-winner in the 72nd minute. Junior midfielder Stephen Nserko had the ball right of the box. He served a ball to the far post for Miquel Casajuana who headed the ball past goalkeeper Dane Geraci.
It was Casajuana's fifth goal of the season.
Nserko said he had a decision to make when he made the pass.
"I don't think (Gardner-Webb) was expecting me to pass. Maybe they were expecting me to dribble," the Ugandan midfielder explained after the game. "I thought if I crossed it, someone will be there."
Winthrop's leading scorer, Revivo, was midway between the posts when the cross came in over his head. At 6-2, Revivo is a good target for the cross pass. He may have drawn an extra defender to free up Casajuana.
"Stephen crossed it over (Revivo). Revivo usually gets those," Casajuana said.
"Gardner-Webb changed their formation and put three in back after the goal, so we had to keep back and play hard."
Posipanko wasn't sure who the pass was intended for, it didn't matter.
"It's a good win," he said.
The Bulldogs had two near-misses in the game. In the 23rd minute, Morrison ripped a shot from 20 yards off the crossbar that shook the frame. In the 53rd minute Gerard Hefferon crossed a ball from the right side that rolled right past the mouth of the goal. Fortunately for the Eagles, no one was able to get a foot on it.
Next up for Winthrop is a Nov. 5 road game at Coastal Carolina. The Eagles will end the regular-season at home Nov. 8 against High Point. The game was rained out earlier this month.
• CORRECTION: Winthrop men's soccer team won eight games in a row in 1979. A recent story in The Herald incorrectly gave the wrong number. This season, the Eagles' seven-game winning streak is the longest since their move to Division I.