‘Bittersweet’ finish: Fuderer, seniors cap off careers in emotional 3-3 draw with Villanova


DePaul Athletics | Steve Woltmann

Senior left back Jake Fuderer fires a penalty kick to put DePaul up 2-0 in the first half against Villanova on Wednesday.

As the final minutes of DePaul’s season ticked away on Wednesday, the team looked to have its storybook ending on senior day at Wish Field. The Blue Demons had snatched the lead from Villanova to go up 3-2 in the 68th minute from a gutsy free kick goal by graduate senior left back Jake Fuderer in his final game in royal blue and scarlet. 

But as life and sport often go, the result isn’t always the one that’s wanted or deserved. In the 90th minute, Villanova rewrote the script. 

A header by senior midfielder Marcus Brenes on a Wildcats corner kick tied the score at 3-3 with 42 seconds left. The gut-punch of a goal left DePaul and its departing seniors in shock. Their redemptive finale had been stolen.

“It was tough, how it ended there,” said graduate senior forward Jack Richards. “I thought we were going to be able to pull it out… but I’m just happy to at least get a result on the final day, senior day.”

Despite the bittersweet draw, DePaul’s seniors played with inspiration and effort all match. Though the result wasn’t what they wanted, the team’s veterans seized the day.

Senior Jake Fuderer boots a free kick in the second half of Wednesday’s senior day match against Villanova at Wish Field. The attempt would find the the back of the net to put DePaul up 3-2. (DePaul Athletics | Steve Woltmann)

Richards set the tone early on a composed goal in the 24th minute. Using his chest to control a cross from junior midfielder Omar Ramadan, Richards found himself with plenty of time near the back post on the right wing. An additional touch was all that was needed for Richards to fire it into the back of the net to give DePaul an early 1-0 lead.

“I saw Omar get the ball and I was kind of peeling off the back post,” Richards said. “I [was] able to take a good touch and had enough time to finish it.”

All three of DePaul’s goals on Wednesday came from the feet of departing seniors. Fuderer put his team up 2-0 just two minutes later with a penalty kick goal, his third of the season.

Graduate senior midfielder Matthew Brickman and senior right back David Gripman did their parts too. Through the full 90 minutes, the speedster Gripman engineered several DePaul runs along the right wing, finding teammates with long balls and outpacing Wildcats all game.

Brickman, who head coach Mark Plotkin has called “an extension of the coaching staff,” made his presence known in the middle third of the pitch with physical play. The defensive-minded midfielder dispossessed the Wildcats numerous times in his DePaul finale. 

The 2-0 halftime lead wouldn’t last long, as Villanova scored twice from set pieces in the first 10 minutes of the second half, with DePaul having trouble with the Wildcats’ tactics on corners all match.

With the score tied 2-2, DePaul began to push back. 

A Villanova foul on a dangerous DePaul attacking chance sent DePaul’s bench into a frenzy. A step ahead of his defender, Freshman winger Felipe Corral raced up the right side of the pitch near the Wildcat’s penalty area. Before he could receive a teammate’s pass, contact with Villanova senior defender Viktor Benediktsoon sent Corral to the ground at the edge of the box. 

Plotkin and his staff cried out for what many thought should have been a red card, but Benediktsson would only receive a yellow, leaving DePaul players and coaches visibly frustrated.

The resulting free kick was set about 22 yards out at the top of the box near the right corner of the penalty area. A wall of five Villanova players stood tall between the ball and the goal as Fuderer stepped up, took a breath and surveyed the defense, readying himself to take what would be his final collegiate free kick attempt.

 “I was just focusing,” Fuderer said. “I saw the keeper and the wall shift over to [their] left a little bit too far, so I was like, ‘yeah, that’s my corner.’”

Under pressure to come through for his fellow seniors and teammates in his final game, Fuderer delivered.

 A picture-perfect strike with his left foot lifted over the wall, apexed, and curled down just inside the upper left corner of the goal. DePaul’s bench erupted as Fuderer darted to Richards to embrace and celebrate the 3-2 lead.

“It was bittersweet for sure. To get one like that on senior day,” Fuderer said. 

Wednesday’s performance was enough for Fuderer to be awarded Big East Defensive Player of the Week, a noteworthy accolade to cap his collegiate career.

Villanova’s goal in the game’s final seconds would steal a winning result for DePaul on Wednesday. Still, it didn’t spoil the departing Blue Demons’ play in the match, nor their play throughout their DePaul careers according to Plotkin. 

“The tone of the game was going to be set by our seniors,” Plotkin said. “If they wanted to finish on a high note, they were going to have to play well, and they were going to [need to] lead the team. They did that today.”

Fifth year seniors Brickman, Fuderer and Richards were Plotkin’s first class of players as DePaul’s head coach after being hired at the end of 2017. Gripman, a true senior, arrived in Lincoln Park the following year.

“Matty [Brickman] and Jake were already committed to the previous coaching staff… and they were [already] bought in on DePaul,” Plotkin said. “That was really important to me. I want guys here that absolutely love the university, love the program and believe in it.”

Wednesday’s draw stung for Plotkin and his team’s seniors who hoped to end the season on a high note.

In the words of a fictionalized Oakland Athletics GM, Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt: “If you don’t win the last game of the season, nobody gives a s—.” But the “Moneyball” sentiment is tough to apply to DePaul’s seniors in their finale. 

Fifth year seniors (from left) Jake Fuderer, Matty Brickman, Jack Richards, and true senior David Gripman receive honors prior to their senior day game against Villanova on 11/2. (DePaul Athletics | Steve Woltmann)

Richards played with poise and notched a goal in his closing game. Brickman displayed toughness, zeal and leadership, as an imposing force, stymying Wildcats’ attackers. Gripman was everywhere, beating Villanova wings to the ball and slashing through defenders in counter attacks. Fuderer’s play on Wednesday could be called heroic, converting a free kick in a tense moment.

After the final whistle blew, Fuderer hugged his teammates and coaches, bidding farewell in the wake of a match in which he left it all on the field.

“I’m emotional because it’s all over,” Fuderer said. “I’ve been here for five years and now I’ve got to move on.”

The 2022 season did not go how DePaul would have liked. The Blue Demons finished with an overall record of 4-6-7. Still, they competed in nearly every match, losing just two Big East games by more than one goal and drawing against the league’s best teams of Georgetown and Xavier. 

The underclassmen on DePaul’s roster can improve from this season’s narrow losses and close matches against good teams, as well as take from the examples set by their graduating teammates.

“I’m glad the younger guys had the opportunity to learn from our [seniors],” Plotkin said.  “Character is contagious, and when you have guys like Matty, Jake, Jack and David competing in your program, your culture is going to be in a good place.”

While Plotkin’s departing players may not have gotten their storybook ending Wednesday, their inspired play could be taken as a silver lining. If his returning players put forth the same passion that Brickman, Fuderer, Gripman and Richards did this season, Plotkin has a promising opportunity to write a brighter next chapter for the story of DePaul men’s soccer.