After a disappointing 1-0 opening day defeat to Grand View College was followed up by a return to a .500 record with a convincing 7-0 win over Missouri Baptist, the Hawks hoped that their next four games would give the team a chance to improve to a winning record. However, playing two teams ranked in the top 25 in the nation in those games, they were well aware of the challenge that lay ahead.
Ashford University vs Illinois Tech
The first chance for the Hawks to show that they have the ability to compete with any team in the NAIA was the September 1 match-up away to Ashford University. Unfortunately for the Hawks, the team got off to the worst possible start in the game, when after just two minutes Ashford fullback Bart Bogeszewski found himself free in the box to head home a corner kick to give Ashford a 1-0 lead. However, the Hawks responded just before the twenty minute mark when Diego Dias was fouled challenging for a header in the Ashford penalty area. Dias got back to his feet to calmly convert the penalty kick and level the game. The Hawks found themselves behind again ten minutes before half time when another corner was hit to the back post, where Ashford’s Michael Handley found himself on the end of the cross to make it 2-1.
The Hawks made some changes at half-time and began to get on top in the game in the second half. They saw almost instant results of the changes as good possession and movement from the Hawks led to Dias again being brought down in the Ashford penalty area for the second penalty kick of the day. Dias again stepped up to send the goalkeeper the wrong way to once again level the scores. Illinois Tech were now camped in the Ashford half and creating numerous chances as they looked to assert their dominance. Chances came and went for the Hawks with no goal to show for all their pressure and their nightmare with corner kicks became even worse when Ashford’s Damian Ryan popped up at the back post to score Ashford’s third. The Hawks continued to bombard the Ashford goal and just three minutes after Ashford took the lead for the third time, the Hawks responded again, through Australian winger Robert Rixer. A ball crossed to the back post was headed down by Diego Dias and Rixer made no mistake in drilling an awkward ball into the Ashford goal off the post. The momentum was now fully with the Chicago team as they pressed looking for a winner, but missed chances would come back to haunt the Hawks. With just seven minutes remaining another defensive error from the Hawks led to Andy Kavanaugh firing the ball in off the post from 20 yards out to win the game for Ashford. Defensive errors and poor finishing were to blame for a defeat in which the Hawks were clearly the better side, outshooting Ashford 23-9 but failing to get the win.
Illinois Tech vs Viterbo University
The Hawks, now looking to return to .500, faced the Viterbo University V-Hawks from Wisconsin at Stuart Field in their net game, on September 4. The home team got off to the best possible start, when after just three minutes, a corner kick worked in favor of Illinois Tech as Jake Carmichael found himself on the end of a Robert Rixer delivery to make it 1-0. Things got even better for the Hawks just over 10 minutes later when Robert Ritchie-Smith stole the ball from the Viterbo midfield and drove up the field before whipping the ball into the bottom corner of the Viterbo goal from 20 yards out. The Hawks were rarely troubled in the first half and went in at the break looking comfortable at 2-0.
The second half continued in a similar fashion with the Hawks comfortably on top and they sealed the game with a third goal in the 55 minute, when good work by Ciaron Kohli-Lynch sent Liam Barrett free in the Viterbo penalty area, where the sophomore forward slotted the ball past the Viterbo goalkeeper from a tight angle. The Hawks easily closed out the game to record their second win of the season and return to .500.
Columbia College vs Illinois Tech
The Hawks’ first game of a difficult road trip to Missouri saw them square off against the #19 nationally ranked Columbia College Cougars. The teams had previously met last season in Chicago and the Hawks traveled to Columbia hoping to avenge a defeat from last year. The game opened in a lively fashion, with both teams taking advantage of the immaculate surface to move the ball quickly across the ground and play some attractive soccer. However, it was another Illinois Tech error that led to the opening goal as Columbia forward John Hutchison turned the ball over from the Hawks defense before slotting the ball past the onrushing Jared Svaldi in the Hawks goal. But the Hawks’ resilience was shown just 36 seconds later, when Liam Barrett picked up the ball in the midfield before he dribbled past two Columbia defenders before firing a left footed shot into the bottom corner of the Columbia goal. The team would go into the half tied at 1-1. In the second half the Hawks took the lead in the 58th minute, when midfielder Robert Ritchie-Smith found space in the Columbia penalty area and on the turn fired the ball into the corner of the Columbia goal to make it 2-1. The game would be leveled again when Hutchison got his second of the game, when he found himself unmarked in the middle of the Hawks penalty area and powered home a header off a cross from the left wing. The Hawks’ fitness was beginning to show, as they continued to play at a high tempo late into the game, and their hard work was rewarded in the 83rd minute when Brendon Boucaud got onto a through ball from Liam Barrett and fired the ball at Columbia keeper Ken Searles. The Columbia keeper failed to handle the pace on the shot from Boucaud and the ball found its way into the back of the net to give the Hawks the win over the #19 ranked team. This was the first time in the program’s history that Illinois Tech has defeated a nationally ranked team while they were ranked in the top 25.
Hannibal La-Grange vs Illinois Tech
The elation of the night before was short-lived as the Hawks turned in a poor performance against Hannibal La-Grange in their second game in as many days. A flat start from the Hawks let the Hannibal Trojans get on top in the game as they moved the ball well and created a few good chances early on. It was the Trojans who broke the deadlock, when good movement from the Hannibal forwards led to the ball being slotted past Hawks goalkeeper Jared Svaldi. A scrappy game continued until the halfway point, with neither team creating any other clear-cut chances. The second half saw some improvement from the Hawks and cracks began to appear in the Trojans’ defense. Freshman full-back Rex Meier had the first good chance for the Hawks. A good switch from Robert Ritchie-Smith sent Meier through and he did well to cut back on the chasing defender and fire a right-footed shot off the base of the post. Minutes later roles were reversed as a Meier cross found its way to Ritchie-Smith unmarked in front of the Trojans’ goal, but his effort was saved. The Hawks would be denied again by the frame of the goal as a shot on goal saved by the Trojans’ keeper rebounded to Ciaron Kohli-Lynch, but the Scottish forward was only able to head the rebound off the crossbar. With the Hawks pushing for a winning goal in the last ten minutes the Trojans found space down the left side of the field and scored a second on the counter attack to seal the win for the home team and leave the Hawks’ overall record at 3-3. The team will hope to regain their winning record on Saturday as they travel to Ohio to face the #3 nationally ranked Rio Grande.