There were much more than statewide bragging rights at stake between the Michigan men’s soccer team and Michigan State on Saturday’s senior night in Ann Arbor. With both squads eyeing an NCAA Tournament berth and a high seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament, this match wasn’t just another rivalry game.

In the annual battle for the Big Bear trophy, the Wolverines edged out the Spartans 1-0. With a win, Michigan State would have clinched the Big Ten championship, so the victory was even sweeter for the Michigan side.

“You want to play for your seniors and they had a great day today, said Michigan head coach Chaka Daley. “I think the younger guys fought for the seniors as well, which was exactly what we talked about in our pregame meeting.”

Daley’s pregame speech must have been stellar. The Wolverines’ energetic start proved that much, at least.

Michigan won two corner kicks in the first five minutes, both of which tested Michigan State freshman goalkeeper Zach Bennett. In the midst of the Wolverines’ persistent attack, junior midfielder Fabio Pereira ripped a shot from just inside the 18-yard box that rattled off the crossbar, landing just in front of the goal line.

The Spartans managed to absorb the pressure early on, as they eventually placed some stress on redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Adam Grinwis and Michigan’s defense in return. But with both teams in a heated, foul laden first half, neither side managed to concede anything, leaving the score line at 0-0 heading into the break.

Daley was calm, cool, and collected at halftime. He said he didn’t mind that his team failed to convert early on, and he kept his team focused on an NCAA Tournament berth and the opportunity to ruin its archrival’s night.

“It doesn’t matter who scores first, but it matters how you deal with winning the game or how you handle adversity if you’re losing,” Daley said.

Sometimes it does matter though, and it sure did for the Wolverines in the heart of the most important half of their season. Senior defender Kofi Opare, who was plagued by a broken nose and appendicitis this season, headed a ball from Fabio Pereira into the back of the net to give Michigan the lead in the 71st minute.

“I credit my team, Opare said. “They kept pushing me and kept me going (during my injury). When I got back on the field tonight, I was 100 percent and I give my team praise for that.”

The Wolverines then did what they have done best in the second half of the season. They played defense.

“I think our back line had one of its best performances today, and that makes my job so much easier,” Grinwis said. “I love having confidence in the four guys playing in front of me.”

With a victory, Michigan captured all that was at stake. It ruined Michigan State’s season and more importantly, it kept the team’s aspirations to reach the NCAA Tournament alive and well.

“They’re gonna enjoy the Big Bear tonight,” Daley said. “I think the feeling of winning something tangible like that can push them onto winning something bigger like the Big Ten Tournament.”

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