Williams advances to national semifinals, defeating Amherst in PKs
AMHERST, Mass. -- The Williams and Amherst men's soccer teams met three times this season. They played 310 minutes of hard-fought soccer.
They tied the first game. Amherst won the second. They tied the third, played underneath a waning sun and before a sizable batch of rabid supporters for each side that made the trip to Hitchcock Field on Sunday.
In those 310 minutes, the Ephs scored exactly zero goals. Nothing. Zilch. Goose egg.
It doesn't matter. None of the other stuff matters now.
The Ephs are going to the national semifinals.
Things didn't start out so well for the Ephs, who were outshot 7-1 in the first half as the Jeffs dominated play and held a monopoly on scoring chances. After Heo hit the crossbar in the game's fourth minute, the Jeffs continued to press forward and nearly got on the board in the 19th minute when Aoyama sent a cross into the box from the right side that Finan bobbled and let get behind him. But Brendan Caslin's shot was blocked by Matt Ratajczak, who cleared the ball out of danger.
With a bit more than three minutes to play in the period, Aoyama used some clever footwork to get free in front of the Ephs goal and fire a laser beam from 25 yards out that went right through Finan's hands and clanged hard off the bar, back out into the scrum. Rico managed to get hold of the ball and launched a right-footed shot that completely froze Finan and, improbably, hit the bar again. Somehow, the half ended scoreless.
Remarkably, both teams managed to lift their intensity levels for the second half after a fiery first half, but once again it was the Jeffs who maintained almost complete control right from the first whistle. But every shot -- the Jeffs managed 11 in the half -- came just short, often within inches, of breaking the stalemate. An Aoyama shot in the first minute? Over the net and into the woods. A Lerner rip after one of his impossibly long throw-ins? Deflected out by another Jeff for a goal kick. A Noon header off a feed from Lerner? Off the bar. Remarkably, Finan went untested for nearly half an hour into the period, but he rose to the occasion when he needed to: a falling save on a Federico Sucre header in the 74th minute, followed by a leaping stop of a Noon attempt from distance five minutes later, kept the sheet clean.
As the clock wound down and the shadows grew long, the Ephs offense finally began to generate some offensive buzz of their own. In the 77th minute, Mohammed Rashid pushed a cross into the box from the right side that skipped through everyone, forcing Jeff goalie Thomas Bull to sprint off his line and grab the ball away from an onrushing Michael Madding in the nick of time.
The Ephs nearly won it 10 minutes later, with Rashid again starting the play. This time, he calmly held the ball near midfield before sending a brilliantly simple pass down the left flank for Geoff Danilack, who turned in by far his best performance of the year off the bench. Here, Danilack took about five touches before crossing into the box, where User Kushaina met the ball in stride, beat his man, and got off a rolling left-footed shot that just eluded the far post.
Just when overtime seemed inevitable, Gabriel Wirz made a bid to end the game in Amherst's favor. With about 15 seconds left, Wirz met a bounding ball perfectly with his laces and sent a high shot the just dipped on net. But Finan rose to the occasion and made his best save of the day, tipping the ball over the net and effectively sending the game into overtime.
To their immense credit, the Ephs built off their late spurt in the second half and was the better of the two teams in the first extra period. But a pair of late Rashid attempts were thwarted by Bull, while yet another incisive cross from the sleek forward managed to sneak through a crowd of bodies untouched in the 94th minute and came to naught.
The Jeffs thought they had won it with just under two minutes to go when Aoyama fired off another twisting left-footed shot, only to see the woodwork deny him yet again.
For better or for worse, the game was headed to penalties, which Russo accurately described as, "a terrible way to end it."
In the opening round, Finan and Bull proved their respective mettles by stopping Lerner and Ratajczak, respectively. But an Aoyama misfire in the third round gave the Ephs the advantage, and gave Patrick Ebobisse a chance to win it in the fifth round.
"I had missed a couple during practice, so my confidence was a little shot," admitted Ebobisse afterward.
He made no mistake this time though, sending a left-footed shot rolling into the right corner to send the Ephs to San Antonio. Ebobisse flung his arms in the air before sprinting toward the Williams fans, who poured out onto the field and celebrated alongside a group of players that had just accomplished the unthinkable.
"I felt the need to step up and lead the team back [to the semifinals]," said Ebobisse after the game, referring to the Ephs' last run to San Antonio in 2009, when the midfielder was just a freshman.
Afterward, Russo offered one possible explanation about the final outcome.
"It's hard to go through a whole season without losing a single game," said Russo, referring to the Jeffs' undefeated ledger entering the game. "Unfortunately for them, [Sunday] was the day."
Russo was wrong there, though. The game goes into the books as a tie, leaving the Jeffs with a 17-0-3 record. The Ephs are now 16-1-4. According to the stat sheets, Williams failed to beat Amherst in three tries this year.
These Ephs couldn't care less.
"We're definitely not satisfied with this result," said Ebobisse. "We want to get two more wins and win the national championship."