Nov. 22, 2008

 

Newport News, VA — If the Messiah men’s soccer team is not supposed to be alive this far into the 2008 NCAA Division III Men’s Soccer Championships, someone has obviously forgotten to notify the Falcons.

Messiah became the first team to put a chink in the armor of third-ranked Montclair State University Saturday afternoon, knocking off the previously unbeaten Red Hawks by a 1-0 score in double-overtime to advance to Sunday’s NCAA Sectional Final against host Christopher Newport University.

Freshman Danny Thompson scored the golden goal 4:42 into the second extra session, giving Montclair State reason to deplore the surname: Last season, older brother Nick scored the Falcons’ lone goal to oust the Red Hawks in the sectional final at Shoemaker Field. That goal came in the 71st minute of regulation. Saturday, the younger sibling’s put-away was even more dramatic.

Working the middle of the field, Thompson received a straight ball from sophomore Sean Cunningham. He then rolled his defender, took a touch and hammered a shot to the near post from eight yards out, beating Montclair goalkeeper Nick Mele to the near post.

As his teammates nearly de-pantsed the younger Thompson during a wild, field-rushing celebration, the facts were the facts: Messiah now stands just one win away from advancing to its eighth Final Four appearance in the last nine years.

“It’s good to win,” said Messiah head coach Dave Brandt. “Montclair is a good team. I thought we played really well, and we needed 100-plus minutes to win, so that tells you something.”

Entering the game with a 21-0 record on the year, Montclair State had its share of chances to remain unblemished. A 5-3 Messiah advantage in first-half shots ballooned to an 8-4 disparity in the second 45 minutes, with both teams getting reasonable opportunities on goal.

Messiah’s best chance to erase the scoreless tie came with 22:33 left in regulation, as freshman Derek Black sent a cross into the box. Danny Thompson was able to win the ball out of the air and send a violent header toward an open cage, but his effort sailed just wide to preserve the scoreless tie.

Perhaps the most heart-stopping moment for either team came in the first overtime period, as a breakaway opportunity for the Red Hawks nearly ended Messiah’s season just three minutes in. Senior JD Binger, junior Trey Overholt and a Red Hawks midfielder leapt simultaneously in an effort to win a ball out of the air at midfield, only for the sphere to land between the three and at the feet of Montclair State forward Sean Pauls. Given the gift of a loose ball, Pauls began dribbling straight for the Messiah goal — with only junior goalkeeper Jared Clugston to beat.

Fortunately for Messiah, Cunningham held his position on the opposite side of the field, allowing an angle to track down Pauls before he could get a clean shot away. With Cunningham arriving just in time to apply pressure, Pauls got off a good — but not spectacular — low, hard shot.

It was a ball that Clugston saved diving to his right, keeping Messiah’s post-season hopes alive in the process.

“I thought we made only one mistake in the back the entire game, and unfortunately it came in the first overtime,” Brandt said. “Cunny (Cunningham) did what he was supposed to do in balancing the weak side. Clugs (Clugston) did what he was supposed to do. It was really a good effort from the pair to keep us playing.”

It turned out to be exactly what eighth-ranked Messiah (19-2-2) needed, as Thompson’s heroics came with just 5:18 remaining on the game clock in the second overtime.

“That (Thompson’s score) was a classic Messiah goal,” Brandt said. “We were able to slip a ball through a seam and Danny rolled his defender. At that point, (Mele) had to guess because Danny was at point-blank range. He caught him leaning the wrong way and he hit it hard.”

Messiah now moves on to the sectional final to face host Christopher Newport, who defeated fourth-ranked Emory University by a 2-0 score in Saturday’s late game. The Falcons defeated CNU on this same field by a 3-1 score on Sept. 1 of last season. The teams are slated to face each other in next year’s season opener as well, making Sunday’s tilt an interesting match-up on several fronts.

“We’re seeing a lot of each other lately,” Brandt said of the host institution. “They are a good team and they’re on a roll. We will have our hands full.”

Sunday’s game time is set for 3 p.m. Links to both a videocast and streaming audio are available on the men’s scocer schedule page.