Sports Information Director
Notre Dame, IND. -- The Holy Cross Saints men's soccer team continued their strong start in Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) play on Sunday afternoon against the Cougars of Saint Xavier (Ill.) University. Senior captain Niko Jelicic (Sucuraj, Croatia) finished off a corner kick from fellow captain Garbhan Grant (Letterkenny, Ireland) to net the only goal of the game and give the Saints a 1-0 victory. With the victory, the Saints improved to 6-2 overall and 2-0 in conference play.
"I'm very proud of the guys," said head coach Omar Gallo. "We didn't have our best performance in the second half, but the guys stayed focused and found a way to get the victory."
Sunday's matchup was the definition of a physical game with both teams fighting tooth and nail until the final whistle.
The Saints opened up the game as the aggressors in the first half, outshooting the Cougars 10-1. With the score tied at 0-0 late in the half, senior captain Niko Jelicic netted his first goal of the season after a corner kick from Garbhan Grant to give the Saints a 1-0 lead.
"I was very pleased with our effort to open the game," continued Gallo. "The guys were aggressive and creating quality scoring opportunities. Niko did a great job being aware after the corner and getting the ball in the back of the net."
It was in the second half when you could clearly see how badly both teams wanted the victory. Unlike the first half, the Cougars took control for the majority of the second half and were the clear aggressors.
Freshman goalkeeper Iain McTurk (Copenhagen, Denmark) would have to be on his toes during this period to keep the Saints lead in front with a number of high quality saves.
"Iain was huge down the stretch for us," continued Gallo. "Sometimes it's hard to believe he's just a freshman with saves he makes. He's continuing to get better at being the voice at our back end and getting guys in the right spots to be successful."
The physical nature of the game was very clear in the second half with both teams throwing their bodies all over the place to gain the advantage. It was at this time when the Cougars started to gain quality scoring opportunities of their own. They outshot the Saints 12-4 in the second half.
With the clock continuing to run and opportunities continuing to increase for the Cougars, Iain McTurk continued to rise to the occasion. He had three big saves in the final three minutes, including one where he sprawled out to his right to deflect the ball out of bounds.
The Saints closed out the game in dramatic fashion after stopping the Cougars last attempt to tie the game on a corner kick in the final minute. The Saints clinched the 1-0 victory and improved to a perfect 2-0 start to open conference play.
"Although we didn't play a great second half, we continued to battle and were able to hold on to the victory," continued Gallo. "I have to tip my cap to our three captains for keeping the team composed when the game got very physical. Niko and Alex solidifying our defensive line and Garbhan is continuing to create the attack."
The win over the Cougars puts the Saints in first place in the conference.
"Winning our first two conference games really makes a statement for us," Gallo stated. "As long as we continue to play our game and focus on the result, we will have success. We now control our own destiny for the rest of the season. This team has worked too hard to get here, and I believe they're ready for the challenge to stay at the top."
Iain McTurk picked up his first career shutout in the win after finishing with 9 saves.
The Saints will resume CCAC play on Wednesday, October 2nd on the road against Calumet College of St. Joseph. The game is set to being at 8:30 p.m. EST.