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WolfPack eliminate TWolves with big second half

In a must-win game for both teams, it was the Thompson Rivers University WolfPack who used a dynamic second half to beat the University of Northern British Columbia Timberwolves 4-0, and keep their Canada West playoff aspirations alive.

“We knew we had to win at all costs,” said TRU’s Callum Etches. “We have been in this situation in previous years, and all the boys were ready. We had to give it our all, and we did that.”

In the early going, it was the Timberwolves who possessed the ball more and created some opportunities in the Pack third, including a dangerous attempt by Joel Watson that was swallowed up nicely on a diving save from keeper Jackson Gardner.

TRU’s best chance in the first half came off a Dylan Hooper free kick that found the head of Justin Donaldson who sent it on target, but Rob Goodey elevated to knock it off the crossbar and eventually out of harm’s way.

At the half, shots favoured the Pack 5-4 but the score remained 0-0, with each team knowing a draw wouldn’t do them any good in their respective pursuit of the playoffs.

In the second half, UNBC came within inches of opening the scoring at the 52 minute mark. A Kensho Ando blast was blocked by a defender but found its way to Stu Rowlands who put it off the post behind Gardner and stayed out.

Less than minutes later, the WolfPack made the home side pay. Donaldson found himself on a run, getting a step on the defender, and beat Goodey with a heavy shot short side to make it 1-0 for the visitors.

“Justin did what he does, on a great rush forward,” said UNBC coach Steve Simonson. “From there, we were chasing. When you’re chasing it against a team that can bury it, things start to go against you a bit.”

This would force the Timberwolves to play more aggressively, now knowing they’d need two goals to keep their hopes alive. However it was the Pack who took advantage. Jan Pirretas Glasmacher found the ball off a free kick and fired through a pair of TWolf defenders, beating Goodey for his fourth of the season.

“They’re athletic and they look to play direct, and a couple times we got caught off guard,” said UNBC’s Jonah Smith. “They were excellent in the box today. They had a few chances and they finished them really well, so that’s the difference.”

The WolfPack would earn a penalty kick in the 79th minute when UNBC’s Demian Dron was called for a foul inside the box, leading to Donaldson stepping up to the spot and burying the chance for his fourth of the campaign to stretch the lead to three.

“It has been a tough year for me, scoring a couple goals,” said Donaldson, who is in his fifth-year of eligibility. “For me, it’s about getting our team through. This could be the last weekend, and I hope it’s not.”

Finally, in the 87th minute off a free kick from inside 20 yards, Hooper beat the wall and the keeper, scoring his second of the season and confirming the Pack’s playoff hopes would live to see at least another day.

“Credit to the WolfPack, that’s why they’re one of the best teams in the league,” said Smith, postgame. “They consistently find ways to win. But I thought our fight was great and we had plenty of chances. Just didn’t go our way.”

With the victory, TRU improves to 5-5-5, while UNBC falls to 4-7-3 on the year. The two teams will clash again on Sunday afternoon, in a game that TRU needs to win to have an opportunity to play in the Canada West playoffs.

“I’m expecting a battle,” said Donaldson, postgame. “Today was a grind, back and forth. They came out in the second half and could have easily been up 1-0. It’s going to be a battle like it always is, so we need to come out with the same mindset and hopefully we come out in the end.”

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