Sept. 12, 2009

Courtesy of Messiah

Virginia Beach, VA — If you didn’t believe in déjà vu before Friday evening’s game between top-ranked Messiah and fifth-rated Christopher Newport University, you would be hard pressed to deny it afterwards.

Just don’t mention the words ‘déjà vu’ and ‘Messiah’ in the same sentence to the CNU folk, or you may walk away with a fat lip.

In a game eerily similar to last year’s 2-1 overtime miracle in the NCAA Sectional Final, Messiah was again able parlay a late goal into extra time and — ultimately — another thrilling game-winning goal for yet another 2-1 overtime victory over the Captains.

While perhaps not quite as big of a stage as last year’s post-season tilt, Friday’s opening contest of the Virginia Wesleyan College Chic-Fil-A Classic took on a playoff-like atmosphere, pitting an early season battle of the titans: Messiah came into the match ranked number one in the most recent NSCAA/Adidas Top 25 Poll, while CNU entered ranked fifth.

In a contest marred only perhaps by horrendous field conditions, neither team would disappoint.

The first 20 minutes of the game were spent with each team seemingly feeling the other out, as well as adjusting to the speed and play on the rain-soaked, mudder which was VWC’s Foster Field. Neither team had too many great chances for scoring plays, and more of the time was spent in the midfield than either attacking third.

It was at this point that CNU (3-1) would start to generate their best chances of the half, as in the 25th minute a Captain striker managed to get an open look on net from the top of the penalty box. That shot went right into the waiting arms of Messiah senior keeper Jared Clugston, however, one of his season-high seven in the game.

Six minutes later, CNU would get another open look, with sophomore Clif Kipper taking a shot from outside of the penalty box, forcing Clugston to make another save — this one requiring a diving effort to his left to smother the ball. Finally, two minutes later CNU would get their best look of the half, using some good passing to get a ball deep inside the Falcons’ penalty box, where they got of a very shallow-angle shot at close range. Clugston, however, was positioned perfectly and cradled the ball right into his chest to preserve the tie.

Messiah (1-0) would get its best look on goal of the half right after that sequence, as junior forward Mark Jeschke got a partial break on goal and a chance to go one-on-one with the CNU sophomore keeper Justin Wolfe. Jeschke managed to get into the penalty box with possession, but took one too many dribbles and Wolfe beat him to the ball, erasing any hope of a Falcon goal.

Coming out the halftime break, the Falcons carried most of the possession in their offensive third, but were unable to string together any good looks on goal. In fact, the Captains were able to gain possession of their own, and just 10 minutes into the half, Christopher Newport would go up 1-0. The Captains were able to connect on a through pass by Brian Lybert to Winston Mattheisen inside the Falcons’ penalty box and behind their defense. From there, it took a simple one-touch to put the ball just out of Clugston’s reach and into the back of the net, sending the local CNU faithful into frenzy.

“CNU was really dangerous in their attacking third, around the penalty box tonight,” said Brad McCarty, Messiah head coach. “They did a good job of creating shots, and it was really tough to play against.”

Desperation may have struck a lesser team at this point, going down to a strong CNU team with less than a half to play, but not the Falcons. After misfiring on several midfield plays and nearly letting CNU connect a few more times in their defensive end, the Falcons showed just why they are the number one team in the nation.

In the 76th minute, junior Keaton Kasiguran got one of the first open looks of the half for the Falcons, but he drilled his shot from distance just high over the crossbar. It was a positive step forward for Messiah, however, as the squad would use this increased offense to finally get itself on the board just six minutes later.

With eight minutes remaining in regulation, junior Geoff Pezon was able to take a through ball from junior Nick Thompson and get behind the Captains’ defense, which was hoping for an offside call. The call was not to come, however, and Pezon was left alone with Wolfe.

Last season’s team-leader in goals and points knew what to do from there.

Pezon sent a sure low ball trickling into the net past the onrushing Wolfe, who had come off his line yet to try and meet the challenge.

It was Pezon’s first goal of the young season, setting off an almost post-season like celebration both on the Messiah sideline and on the field.

“I was pleased with the team,” McCarty said. “They maintained their belief and their discipline after going down. They created opportunities to score.”

With Pezon’s goal breathing new life into the Falcons and their faithful, McCarty’s club would surge ahead. In fact, with just one minute remaining in the second half, the team nearly avoided overtime altogether, as Jeschke was able to get control of the ball inside the penalty box on the endline, where he sent a cross right to the dead center of the penalty box and to the foot of waiting sophomore Tom Renko. Renko one-timed a clear shot on goal, but it went begging high of the crossbar, and regular time would end with an audible groan from all 550 in attendance.

With McCarty working his bench like magic, the Falcons were able to rest some of their starters for much of the second half and the beginning of the first overtime period.

This would turn out to be a game-changing factor in favor of the Falcons.

With about four minutes left in the first overtime, many of the original starters came back onto the field. Just two minutes later, the Falcons would get their golden goal, from a combination made up of three original starters of the game.

It all started when Pezon was able to beat the CNU defenders to a ball inside of the penalty box and gain possession on the endline. After drawing the ball right back to the middle of the box, junior Nick Thompson was left with a one-on-one chance against Wolfe from right on the penalty spot. Wolfe made a spectacular reflex save on Thompson’s blast from close distance, but the ball bounded right to the feet of his brother, sophomore Danny Thompson. With the keeper on the ground and the defense stranded on the wrong side of the goal, Danny was left alone, and knocked a clean shot right into the back of the net.

The end result was a field rush and pile-on by the Messiah bench to rival that of last year’s playoff win, while the CNU players and faithful were left with mouths hanging open in disbelief.

Again.

“The depth is important,” McCarty said moments after the finish, chaos still ensuing around him. “The second group started in overtime, and that gave the starters legs to work with offensively in the overtime, it gave Pezon the legs to get to that ball on the endline and draw it back in.”

With the win, the Falcons keep their record unblemished and move onto the second game of the Chick-Fil-A Invitational at Virginia Wesleyan College to face the hosts, the Marlins of VWC (3-0-1). Virginia Wesleyan defeated Baldwin Wallace College by a 1-0 score in Friday’s second game. Messiah will now match up with VWC Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at Foster Field in Virginia Beach. Messiah fans can again catch all the action via local radio broadcast on 90.7 WVMM, or online at wvmm.org.