GCU men’s football team ready to cash at home in NCAA tournament first round

It’s not just talent and training that could give the Grand Canyon their first victory in an NCAA tournament in men’s football.

It’s the electric current of the students, the loud and proud Havocs, that will help GCU crash into the first round on Thursday night when the Antelopes host Denver at 7pm.

“I’ve been to some great places, where football is one of the main sports, but this atmosphere here is amazing and will help,” said freshman coach Leonard Griffin, who played at UCLA, attended, along with California and Saint Mary’s schools that reached Elite Eight in college soccer. “The students create a special environment for you.”

GCU, 15-3-1, will look to take advantage of what Griffin calls “the 12th man,” in what should be a sold-out crowd, this is the first NCAA tournament hosted by the Antelopes.

They believed they were in the 64-team tournament, even after losing on penalties to Seattle U in the championship game of the Western Athletic Conference tournament, after placing fifth nationally with 44 goals and seventh in percentage. of stops at 81%.

When they found out they were home, they felt even better.

The Lopes lost a 2-0 lead late in regulation and, after two scoreless overtime, they lost 4-3 on penalties to Seattle.

“We see this as a learning moment,” Griffin said. “We didn’t lose. We just learned. We will use it as a learning moment.”

This is the 11th appearance in the NCAA tournament for Denver (9-3-5), which is coached by Jamie Franks, who is in his seventh season.

The Pioneers reached the tournament last year, only to have to withdraw before their first-round match against UNC Greensboro due to COVID-19.

This is the first time GCU has met Denver as a Division I school.

They last met in 1996, when GCU won 3-2.

In its last three games, Denver has taken him on penalties, winning the last two games of the Summit League tournament.

“It will be a very difficult game,” said Griffin. “I’ve seen Denver a number of times in my college football history. They’ve got a solid head coach in Jamie Franks. They’re organized tactically. You have to show up and do your best, fight for 90 minutes.”

GCU is led by WAC Defensive Player of the Year Easai Easley, who helped GCU win their second straight WAC regular season.

He never left the field early in the season in a 1-0 win over tournament-seeded Oregon State.

Easley assisted by Shaun-Chris Joash, a junior transfer from Hampton Hill, England, who scored six WAC goals; and Justin Rasmussen, a Las Vegas native, who leads the Lopes with eight goals, six assists, 22 points and 3 shots.

If they win, they could be sent to Clemson to face the Tigers on Sunday.

To suggest ideas for human interest stories and other news, contact Obert at [email protected] or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.

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