Oct 14, 2014, 10:33 PM EST
A converted penalty kick by junior midfielder Patrick Hodan was all No. 9 Notre Dame needed to defeat No.19 Northwestern, 1-0, on a damp night in Alumni Stadium.
It had been a gray morning and afternoon at Notre Dame, dotted by periods of steady rain and mist. Conditions were clear by game time, but the day’s earlier wet weather affected play from the outset. Players from both sides struggled to control the ball with any consistency, and errant passes were commonplace. The slick surface and ball proved especially challenging for both squads’ goalkeepers, who had to resort to simply deflecting shots away from their goals in lieu of catching them.
The circumstances surely would have fazed a young keeper, but luckily for Notre Dame and Northwestern, both had ample experience between the pipes. Irish netminder Pat Wall was making his 46th start for Notre Dame – impressive, right? That is, until one considers that Northwestern keeper Tyler Miller was making the 70th start of his decorated career.
Miller, a senior, is a three-time All-Big Ten selection, and his play certainly validated these lofty accolades. He was under constant pressure in the first half as Notre Dame fired eight shots prior to intermission, but made numerous diving stops to maintain a scoreless tie.
“I was very pleased with the way were connecting in the first half,” Irish head coach Bobby Clark said. “That period of the game was one of our best performances of the year.”
Notre Dame continued its aggressive play after the break, dominating possession and spending most of its time in the Northwestern half.
“I thought we moved the ball really well,” Hodan said. “We created some chances and just found open space.”
Time and again, though, Miller proved up to the task, and it took a penalty kick for Notre Dame to finally break through. In the 65th minute, Northwestern defender Nathan Dearth was shown a yellow card for taking down Irish attacker Jon Gallagher in the box. This set the stage for Hodan, who drove the penalty kick just under a diving Miller into the bottom right corner of the net. It was Hodan’s third goal in the last three games and his team-high fourth of the year.
Notre Dame took a much more defensive approach following the goal but still needed a few fine saves from Wall to preserve the shutout. It was Wall’s 5th shutout of the season and 18th of his career.
“It was good for the defense to get a shutout,” Clark said. “Pat wasn’t overworked, but when he was called on he had vital saves on a gritty night where shots on the ground can sometimes slip in.”
Clark was pleased with the victory but acknowledged much room for improvement.
“Even though we had a lot of the ball in their half, we didn’t make a lot of really good chances,” Clark said. “And that’s been a little bit the story of our year. We’ve dominated games, but we’re not making enough good chances. We’ve got to look to that and somehow find a remedy and get a few more goals on the board.”
The win was Notre Dame’s first in its last seven tries against Northwestern, and Clark’s first over the Wildcats as Notre Dame’s head coach.
The Irish will travel to Durham, N.C. later in the week for a Friday match against Duke. Notre Dame will seek to win three straight matches for the first time this season.
”We’ve been playing well these past few games, and we’ve just been finding ways to win,” Hodan said. “Once you get closer to the end of the year, you really want to be hitting your peak and winning in all types of ways and hopefully we can continue to do that.”
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