The last month and change on the sideline has been complete agony for one of University of Jamestown's most prolific goal scorers.
Junior attacking midfielder Ruben Zepeda dusted off the cleats Saturday at the Jimmie turf, scoring the game-winning goal in the second half of a 2-1 University of Jamestown victory over the Doane Tigers.
Zepeda hadn't played since Sept. 18. The Jimmies' 2018 scoring leader suffered a right MCL strain while practicing to face Morningside College on Sept. 28.
"It's been pretty hard," Zepeda said. "You always have this feeling of wanting to help more and it's kind of frustrating when you're injured because you can't do it. The only way you can do it is supporting your team and that's what I've did."
The Jimmies went 3-5-2 in Zepeda's absence, but his difference-making return has come at the right time. Jamestown wrapped up the regular season at 7-8-2 overall and locked up the No. 7 seed for the upcoming Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament with the victory. Jamestown will play at No. 2 seed Midland University (13-3-2) in a quarterfinal pairing this Wednesday in Fremont, Nebraska.
Jamestown was in command 1-0 at the half, outshooting Doane 5-2. But the Tigers turned up the heat after the break, and untimely turnovers eventually led to Doane leveling the score at 1-1 in the 69th minute. The visitors ended up outfiring UJ 12-9 in the match.
But Zepeda, playing as a reserve, came on in the 72nd minute and scored his fifth goal of the season nine minutes later, assisted by sophomore forward Aaron Pike.
"It was much-needed," UJ men's soccer coach Tommy Nienhaus said of Zepeda's goal. "We talked about it at halftime. There were things that we needed to do that we just weren't doing enough of. The chances that we created later in the half were the chances that we wanted to create in the beginning of the half."
Pike got behind Doane goalkeeper Nishesh Yadav and scored his team-leading 11th goal of the campaign in the 15th minute, putting UJ on the board first. Zepeda, who has scored 19 career goals for the Jimmies over three seasons, was happy he was able to contribute to the victory.
"I'm always trying to help the team ... with a goal, with an assist, with physical effort, and I had the opportunity to score which is really nice," Zepeda said. "I'm really grateful for the trust that coach gave me, and the trust from my teammates, especially coming after a long period of not playing."
UJ backup goalkeeper Alex Hamer, filling in for No. 1 Jake Askew who was shown a red card in UJ's 2-1 loss hosting Northwestern College on Oct. 30, produced three saves.
Jamestown fell to Midland 2-1 in overtime on Oct. 19, but that result occurred without Zepeda in action and Nienhaus said others are on the mend.
"In the next few days we should be getting back two more guys ... and we gotta check on a couple guys that got some knocks today," Nienhaus said. "But we like our chances."
"It's really good to be back," Zepeda added. "I think we'll be ready for conference."
University of Jamestown 2, Doane University 1
DU 0 1 -- 1
UJ 1 1 -- 2
1. UJ, Aaron Pike (Eric Fairtlough), 15th minute. 2. DU, Markus Pieper (unassisted), 69th; 3. UJ, Ruben Zepeda (Pike), 81st.
Goalie saves: DU, Nishesh Yadav 3. UJ, Alex Hamer 3
Yellow cards: DU, Marcos Miranda 87th. UJ, Pike 88th.
Records: Jamestown 7-8-2, 4-5-2 GPAC. Doane 3-13-1, 2-7-1.