Nov. 22, 2008

Courtesy of Harvard Athletics

AMHERST, Mass. -- Andre Akpan found the back of the net with a goal at 102:33 to lift No. 30 Harvard to a sudden victory, 1-0, at No. 25 Massachusetts in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Saturday afternoon. With the win, the Crimson (12-5-0) advances to the second round and will travel to South Florida for a matchup Tuesday evening.

UMass (10-8-3) almost scored its own golden goal in the opening seconds of the second extra session when Chris Roswess battled through a cluster of Harvard defenders in front of the cage and put a shot that dribbled behind Crimson goalkeeper Austin Harms. The ball rolled towards the goal line, but Robert Millock made a game and season-saving save, clearing it away from danger.

On the ensuing Crimson possession, John Stamatis moved the ball ahead to the right side, finding Akpan. The junior forward moved down the line, battling two defenders, and touched the ball with his foot trying a cross towards the left side from a tough angle. The ball headed towards the far side of the net over a leaping Zack Simmons and into the back of the cage for the game winner.

“Stamatis played a good ball up to me and I tried to go one-on-one with the defender,” Akpan said. “I went towards the box and tried a cross, but was lucky enough to get it just inside the far post.”

“In a situation like this, it was going to take something dramatic to win the game,” said Jamie Clark, the Virginia B. and George O. Welch ’52 Head Coach for Harvard Men’s Soccer. “Andre made a good play with the ball on the right side and had a great effort to get it in the net.”

On a cold, blustery day at Rudd Field, the Minutemen had the first and best chance of the first half at the five-minute mark. Ben Arikian made a pass towards the top of the box, finding a wide open Mark DeSantis. DeSantis composed himself, set and lifted the ball towards the goal, but it went right over the cross bar and out of play. Harvard immediately responded with a scoring opportunity of its own, as Stamatis missed the target with a shot that went high after Akpan played him the ball at the left corner of the box.

UMass had a header near the eight-minute mark by Mark DeSantis that went wide left and had another chance at 15:45 when Roswess took the ball at midfield and weaved his way through the left side. Roswess got a good shot off, but Harms grabbed it. About a minute later, Akpan got a solid shot off with his left foot from the top of the box, but it skipped wide to the left.

Midway through the half, Brian Grimm stepped up into the right corner of the box and tried a shot from right to left, but Simmons pulled it in for his only save of the half. The teams headed into the first half with the Minutemen holding a 7-5 advantage in shots and each time earning one corner apiece.

The Crimson earned the first quality chance in the second near the 50th minute when Michael Fucito fed Akpan with a pass near the right side. Akpan got a good look and tried bouncing the ball towards the goal. Simmons read it well, and dove to make the stop.

UMass earned back-to-back corners in the 55th minute and had a sequence of quick passes in the box before Ben Arikian headed a shot high. Eight minutes later, Fucito took a strong shot, but it was blocked by two defenders. Stamatis grabbed possession and trickled a shot that missed to the left.

With 19:30 to go in regulation, Roswess got a header that just missed giving UMass a 1-0 lead, as his attempt hit the right post. The teams had two last chances in the final minutes when Kwaku Nyamekye bounced a shot on net from around 25 yards away at 86:30. With 2:15 remaining, Prince Ofosu had a shot that went just wide after dribbling all the way into the Crimson zone from midfield.

The Minutemen outshot the Crimson, 8-6, in the second half, and led 15-11 in shots for regulation. UMass also had a strong advantage in corner kicks, earning seven of eight in the second.

Neither team managed a shot in the first overtime, and each squad had one apiece in the second extra frame.

Harms finished the game with one save for his sixth shutout of the season, while Simmons made three stops. Harvard is now 19-14 all-time in the NCAA tournament and heads to the second round for the 10th time in program history.

The Crimson will now travel to Tampa, Fla., to face South Florida Tuesday, Nov. 25 at 7:30 p.m.