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Villanova men’s soccer team rides late heroics, three straight shutouts into first Big East Tournament since 2016

The Wildcats scored a dramatic 87th-minute winner vs. Seton Hall on Wednesday to clinch a spot.

Defender Anthony Cousins Jr.'s dramatic late winner sealed Villanova's place in the Big East Tournament for the first time since 2016.
Defender Anthony Cousins Jr.'s dramatic late winner sealed Villanova's place in the Big East Tournament for the first time since 2016.Read moreVillanova Athletics

By defeating reigning Big East champion Seton Hall 1-0 on Wednesday, thanks to a third consecutive shutout, Villanova (10-6-1, 5-4-1 Big East) earned a spot in the Big East tournament for the first time since 2016.

With a four-way tie for fourth place in the Big East, it came down to the final game of the regular season, where the Wildcats controlled their postseason destiny in a win and get-in scenario at home against the Pirates.

Thanks to an 87th-minute goal by Anthony Cousins Jr., Villanova gets to play another day.

After delivering the game-winner, Cousins sought out two particular fans in a packed Higgins Soccer Complex crowd. His uncles, Bruce Sumlin and Rob Washington, picked a great game to see their nephew play for the first time all year.

“After such a long game, where both teams were really dominating, it was just incredible for him to squeeze that one out,” said Washington.

Villanova head coach Tom Carlin considered Wednesday’s do-or-die matchup as a postseason game.

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“If we lost, there was a chance that we weren’t going to move on,” said Carlin, “so I told them at halftime that this is their first playoff game. I thought they looked a little nervous at times, but they willed their way through.”

Reaching the Big East Tournament would not have been possible without Villanova’s late surge to end the season, where they finished 2-0-1. During that span, the defense and goaltending did not allow a goal.

Carson Williams was the goalkeeper for two of the three clean sheets and posted his 20th career shutout in his final regular-season game.

“Since I’ve been here, we haven’t made the Big East or the NCAA tournament,” said Williams, “so for us guys in our final year here, it’s just awesome to be in this position.”

In a game where the Pirates outshot the Wildcats, 17-11, Williams was ready for his big moment, making five saves. He finished the regular season with a 1.16 goals-against average and 57 saves in 15 starts.

When talking about the team’s improvements defensively, Williams credits their focus as a unit.

“We have been much more organized,” said Williams. “Everyone knows where they have to be, and the defense has done a great job of getting the ball out in pressure situations.”

Carlin seconded the message of his redshirt senior goaltender, also emphasizing the team getting healthy at the right time.

“I think one big reason for our success defensively is having Josh Belluz back,” said Carlin. “I mean just look at our record with and without him in the lineup.”

A junior midfielder from Toronto, Belluz has been a difference-maker when healthy. In the 13 games he’s played, Villanova is 10-2-1.

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Villanova looks to improve its record Saturday when they will travel to Omaha to take on fourth-seeded Creighton. The Wildcats hosted the Blue Jays once this season on Oct. 13, dropping the regular-season matchup, 4-2. It is the most goals Villanova has allowed in a single game, but Carlin feels the team’s defensive progression could lead to a different outcome.

“We always talk about having a growth mindset as a team,” says Carlin, “which means just continuing to keep getting better and progressing a little bit every day. This back line just continues to work and you have really been able to see it over these past few games.”

Villanova hopes its late-season growth on the defensive end will pay major dividends on Saturday.