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FHSU plays to scoreless draw

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Three years ago, coach Brett Parker was Fort Hays State University men's soccer coach in the program's inaugural season. Rob Czlonka took over at Northeastern (Okla.) State University the same year. That year, the Tigers lost 1-0 and won 2-1 versus NSU.

Last season, NSU joined the MIAA. Fort Hays and the River Hawks matched up three times.

Fort Hays earned a 3-2 double-overtime victory, a 1-1 tie and a 6-3 loss in the first round of the NCAA Division II tournament. NSU went on to play in the national quarterfinals. This season, the rivalry has intensified further with a 2-2 tie on Sept. 26 in Tahlequah and a 0-0 draw Thursday night at FHSU Soccer Stadium.

"It's a good rivalry," Parker said. "There is a lot of mutual respect. We respect their players. They respect our players, and the coaches as well. Yeah, it's fun. We play them a few too many times it seems like, and we will probably end up playing them again this year."

Fort Hays, ranked No. 17 in NCAA Division II, moved to 9-2-2 (4-1-2 MIAA), while No. 25-ranked Northeastern bumped to 7-2-4 (4-1-2 MIAA). FHSU stands No. 2 in the first Central Region standings released Wednesday. Northeastern ranks third. Lindenwood (Mo.) University is first. The top-two teams from each region make the playoffs.

"You just play each other so much, it's bound to be a rivalry," Czlonka said. "It's just like Michigan and Ohio being next door neighbors. There is bound to be some scuffles. It's a fun game. Brett does a great job with his team, and they play good soccer. They don't play kick and run or foul for fouling sake. It's a good game. I thought both teams competed very well."

Both teams rarely had scoring chances. In 110 minutes, the squads combined for five shots on goal, two by the Tigers. Northeastern outshot FHSU 12-6. The first shot didn't come until 22 minutes into the match. FHSU didn't have its first shot until the 14:45 mark before intermission.

"They are a very good team," Parker said. "They played really well tonight. They pressurized us for quite a bit of the match. Sometimes you have to grind out results and a tie in the grand scheme of things, it leaves everything out in front of us to play for."

Fort Hays had just three shots in regulation and recorded just two corner kicks, each in the second overtime. It tied for the third-fewest shots in Tiger history for a single contest and the fewest this season. FHSU was held scoreless for the first occasion since a season-opening 2-0 loss to Texas Permian-Basin.

"We went out and we were a little more high pressure than we have been, and we defended quite well," Czlonka said. "I thought they were very dangerous on counterattacks, and they have got some special players, so we did our homework on our film and made sure we knew what was going on with how we played last time."

It marked the second 0-0 contest in FHSU annals. The first came Oct. 18, 2011 versus Oklahoma Wesleyan. Early on, Parker thought FHSU looked for the "perfect opportunity" instead of shooting the ball.

At the 32:20 mark of the second half, FHSU had its best opportunity. The ball went into the box and senior Daniel Peralta squibbed a kick near the left post, but goalkeeper Eric Shephard made a diving save. With a few minutes left in regulation, the River Hawks had a great scoring chance on a cross from Paul Samia, but couldn't capitalize. Fort Hays will play host to Harding (Ark.) at 1 p.m. Saturday.

"We weren't sharp in the attack tonight," Parker said. "Our passing was a little bit off. The final ball, we couldn't really find it, but credit to Northeastern, they played really well, and their pressure had a lot to do with that."