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Williams save, Cousins goal propel Villanova into Big East tournament for first time since 2016

Wildcats travel to Omaha to take on Creighton after earning a fifth seed in the Big East Men’s Soccer Championship

Matt Ralph

As far as scoring your first collegiate goal goes, Villanova left back A.J. Cousins couldn’t have chosen a better time to get into the box and bury a rebound into the back of the net.

Cousins’ goal in the 87th minute propelled Villanova into the Big East Championship for the first time since 2016.

“For AJ to get that goal in a special moment like this is just incredible,” Nova head coach Tom Carlin stated. “It’s incredible for him. We’ve been talking about getting him forward. He saved the best for last.”

The former Philadelphia Union Academy defender, a Honolulu native, returned to the area after spending his first two years of college at FIU and has been a starter from day one with starts in all but two matches this season for the Wildcats.

The goal was the first of his college career.

“It feels great,” Cousins said after the game. “But you know, it’s a team, it’s a team sport so I just can’t thank my team enough for embracing me from the first day of preseason.”

Villanova (10-6-1, 5-4-1) has had an up and down season in conference play. After opening 4-0-0 for the first time in program history, they dropped four straight in the conference before grinding out a scoreless draw at Providence and pulling off the 1-0 win over Seton Hall at home on Wednesday.

The dramatic finish almost never happened. Goalkeeper Carson Williams, who was one of four seniors honored before the game, had to come up with a big stop to keep the game scoreless and give his teammates a chance to find a winner.

“We needed a big save from Carson (Williams), as usual,” Carlin said. “But we got it done.”

The season finale took on a playoff atmosphere with the already eliminated Seton Hall trying to play the role of spoiler. The 1-0 win was enough to set up a quarterfinal match with Creighton in Omaha on Saturday night at 7 p.m.

A win would all but guarantee the Wildcats their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016 when the program made it to the tournament for the first time. An at large bid may be possible regardless of the result though Saturday with Villanova’s record of 10-6-1 overall, winning record in conference and placement in the RPI, which was 32 before Wednesday’s win.