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BUFFALO, N.Y. – A golden goal by freshman Adam Najem lifted the No. 23 University of Akron men's soccer team to a 1-0 Mid-American Conference victory against Buffalo Friday night at UB Stadium.
It was a beautiful goal for Najem, who took a cross from Saad Abdul-Salaam and fired it into the back of the net at the 107:54 mark from 15 yards out. It was the Zips' third consecutive win and seventh victory overall in their last eight matches.
With the dramatic result, UA improved to 10-3-0 overall and took sole possession of first place in the MAC with a league record of 3-1-0.
"Buffalo is never an easy place to play," said UA head coach Jared Embick. "Credit has to go to the Bulls, who played a heck of a game and with a lot of heart. Tonight may not have been pretty or our best performance but I knew if we could produce one moment of quality, we could score the goal we needed.
"This team could have folded or accepted the tie but they wanted to win and found a way to do just that. I give Louis Cross, Andrew Souders and Fernando Pina a lot of credit for the way they played tonight. They kept a clean sheet and bought us time to score the winning goal."
Najem has scored three goals in his last three games and is tied for second on the team with a pair of game-winning goals. With the setback, the Bulls fell to 2-9-3 overall and 1-3-0 in the conference.
Najem's heroics would not have been possible however had it not been for a highlight reel-worthy save by Pina, the Zips freshman goalkeeper, near the end of regulation.
With both teams still searching for the match's first goal, Buffalo's Kristian Lee-Him appeared to find one in the 82nd minute when he created space at the top of the 18 and fired a rocket through a wall of Akron defenders. Displaying tremendous reflexes and athleticism, Pina dove to his right to make the stop at the last second and send the game into overtime.
With a pair of saves, Pina and the Zips notched their seventh shutout in 12 contests this fall.
The first half was dominated by the Zips, who had a number of quality chances to put a goal on the board, but UB goalkeeper Waleed Cassis was up to the challenge, recording four saves to keep the match scoreless. It was a strong evening overall for Cassis, who finished with eight saves.
As a result of Akron's dominating possession, Pina was rarely tested early on. Buffalo, which sat back for much of the match, was more aggressive after halftime and had a couple of good looks but couldn't break through.
In all, UA doubled up UB in shots, 18-9, and recorded nine shots on goal, compared to just two for the Bulls. Akron also recorded eight corner kicks to Buffalo's two.
The Zips will next return home to play host to Michigan State Wednesday night at FirstEnergy Stadium – Cub Cadet Field.
Zips Notebook: Akron was forced to play without starters Reinaldo Brenes and Robbie Derschang due to injuries. Zac Portillos started at forward for Brenes and Phil Fives started at left back for Derschang ... UA is unbeaten in its last 18 meetings (17-0-1) against Buffalo and leads the all-time series 23-1-1 ... The Zips improved to 6-1 on the road or at neutral sites ... eleven of UA's last 12 games have been decided by one goal. Akron is 9-2-0 in one-goal games this fall ... The Zips have played four double overtime games this fall. Akron is 3-1 in overtime games.