As the elimination round of the UAAP Season 78 men’s football tournament draws closer to its conclusion, every game, point and even goal counts. That’s why the National University Bulldogs were left to lament their clumsy end-game display in the painstaking 3-2 defeat to the De La Salle University Green Archers.
As the fourth official raised the board indicating four minutes of added time still to be played, it looked likely that Coach Wilhelm Laranas’ Bulldogs would see out the game on their way to second place. They were up 2-1 at the time. For almost the entire game, the NU defense had held firm, so a comeback from the Green Archers looked far-fetched.
Yet DLSU emerged victorious by overturning the deficit with two late goals both scored in added time. A loss would have stung the Bulldogs hard as it was, so losing the game in such manner was nothing short of catastrophic. After the game, the NU mentor branded the defeat as simply unacceptable.
“It was there. We’re just waiting for the time [to run out]. Lapses na eh. I can’t accept that. Last four minutes na [we gave away] two goals, it’s not an excuse na [mawala nang] ganoon lang kasimple,” a frustrated Laranas elaborated.
The first error led to Jose Montelibano attracting the defense along the byline. With all the Bulldogs closing down on him, including the keeper, he made a clean pass to locate an unmarked Nicko Villacin, who levelled the score in the first minute of added time by tapping it easily into the unguarded net.
Seeing their lead erased, the Bulldogs were rattled, and their inexperience dealing with the situation was summed up by Chris Perocho’s error with a minute left in the four added minutes. He received a back pass by smothering it with his hands, prompting referee Rey Ritaga to award a free kick inside the box. Given a chance to win the game outright, La Salle’s Greggy Yang completed the comeback by whipping the free kick beyond Perocho’s reach into the bottom corner.
“Sila rin ‘yung bumawi sa magandang nilaro nila. Nandiyan na tayo, kaso hindi tinapos. At the end of the day, alam naman natin na maganda yung nilaro ng Bulldogs, pero ang bottom line din ‘yung score. Pinatalo rin nila at the end,” Laranas added, while also identifying the lack of focus as a concern arising from that forgettable game.
It seemed like déjà vu for the Bulldogs, who had struggled to get results from the top five in the first round. A win would have been huge, as it would have placed them in the top three. Now, they are left to pick up the pieces once more as they gear up for a demanding four-game schedule to end the elimination round. “Hopeful pa naman kami, kaya lang malaking edge sana kung nanalo kami. Kailangan trabahuin ulit namin kasi ‘yung momentum namin namatay bigla,” Laranas expressed.
Currently in sixth place with 15 points, the NU Bulldogs might feel slightly relieved that they are just three points behind the fourth-placed Ateneo De Manila University Blue Eagles in the standings. The good thing for NU is that their destiny remains in their hands, but they don’t have much time and room for error left heading into a tough run-in. The red-hot Far Eastern University Tamaraws, who have won their last six games, will stand in the way of the Bulldogs’ bid for a playoff spot. With every game appearing to be a must-win for NU, there’s no better way of proving their worth to make the semis than getting a result against the reigning champions. Their encounter is scheduled this Thursday, 2PM, at the Moro Lorenzo Football Field.