Dec. 5, 2009

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By Gaylon Krizak
Special to NCAA.com


SAN ANTONIO - Attack, attack, attack (with the occasional counterattack). Win, win, win.

The Messiah Falcons' philosophy would make a good children's reader. And given that it's now led to back-to-back NCAA Division III men's soccer championships and five in the past six years, such a publication probably would be a best-seller.

"It was important for us to do well the first half," said Brad McCarty, who capped his first season as Messiah's head coach with a 2-0 victory over Calvin in Saturday's final at Blossom Soccer Stadium. "It's been something that we've struggled with some during this NCAA run. It's awesome that we've played well in the second half, but we haven't necessarily always done all that well in the first half.

"I thought we carried the play at times, especially our starting group - pressing them, not letting them out and kicking the ball around."

The Falcons (24-1) saved their most dominating performance in recent weeks for last. The Knights (18-5-3), playing in their first national final, did not get their first shot until the 42nd minute, by which time they already trailed 1-0.

Messiah took the lead in the 16th minute. Derek Black's long throw-in to Joshua Wood led to a pass to Danny Thompson, who quickly blasted a short shot past Calvin goalie Ryan Bratt at the 29:34 mark.

The game swung to the Falcons' favor for good early in the second half. The Knights quickly created shots that Messiah defenders had to sweep away from the goal. A header save by Jevon Gondwe was followed seconds later by Calvin Todd's clearing kick off the line to pick up goalie Jared Clugston.

"I was very thankful for my teammates," said Clugston, the Defensive Player of the Tournament. "That's been there all year for me, and I couldn't have picked a better four back there.

"I've been so fortunate all the years I've been here to have an unbelievable defense to help me out. They should've been the defensive MVP this season instead of me."

But Messiah countered the Knights' small flurry rapidly, getting the ball to Geoff Pezon at the penalty-kick line. Fitting, since Pezon - the Offensive Player of the Tournament - was taken down at that spot, setting Nick Thompson up with a penalty kick that he put past Bratt for a 2-0 Falcons lead in the 49th minute.

"It's always tough, a swing of play goes like that where you're on your toes on the attack, going forward and all of a sudden it's coming right back down  your throat," Calvin defenseman Greg Snapper said. "We had our chances, it didn't go in that way, it went the other way. It's not how we would have wanted it. It's tough, it's heartbreaking, but there's always ways to turn it around and it just didn't go our way this time."

The Knights, who closed the shots gap to 9-8 by game's end, managed some minor threats after that, but the damage had been done.

"Today was a game of finishing off what you started," Calvin coach Chris Hughes said. "We had an opportunity or two there that we could have plugged away, and that could've maybe changed the momentum; you don't know. But Messiah put a heckuva battle up and they're a good team."

McCarty, an assistant under Dave Brandt for eight years before becoming head coach when Brandt left for the U.S. Naval Academy, said that's no accident.

"I bought into Messiah soccer the last eight years as assistant coach and I wanted to maintain the pride of the program," he said. "And I don't think that has anything to do with championships. I think it has to do with the standards and the expectations that we hold each other accountable to, and  I think the guys did a great job of that.

"And, you know, I think that comes down to team chemistry, and I think we have that."