Dec. 3, 2010

By Matt Rybaltowski
Special to

SAN ANTONIO - During its run through the Division III soccer tournament, two-time defending champion Messiah College has utilized a deep bench that has worn out opponents when it has mattered the most.


On a balmy day at Blossom Soccer Complex, the Falcons outlasted a fatigued Wisconsin-Oshkosh squad more accustomed to the frigid temperatures of the Great Lakes than the Texas heat. Messiah scored two goals in the final five minutes of Friday's semifinal to eliminate the previously undefeated Titans by a score of 4-1. Messiah, which has won the last two national titles, will play the winner of the Bowdoin-Lynchburg semifinal in the championship game at 1 p.m. (CST) on Saturday.


Clinging to a 2-1 lead, Messiah (22-1) coach Brad McCarty opted to rest his top players, senior midfielder Geoff Pezon and the duo of brothers Nick and Danny Thompson with roughly 25 minutes remaining. They re-entered the game with just over 10 minutes to play and factored into both goals that sealed the game.


"We have a lot of depth coming off our bench," Danny Thompson said. "We don't want any drop off between our second group and our first group. There wasn't any today. Those guys played solid and they picked us up."


With just over three minutes remaining, junior forward Kent Ramirez crossed a ball into the middle of the box that Nick Thompson took out of the air and lightly tapped into the goal. The Falcons quickly struck again just over a minute later when Danny Thompson and Pezon connected. Pezon received the return pass from Thompson and calmly placed a shot into the left side netting.


"Once we came back we had fresh legs and were ready to roll," Danny Thompson added.


UW-Oshkosh (20-1-3) played the tail end of the game shorthanded, as experienced defenders Jack Borski and Will Chaney were forced to the bench with cramps. Both the temperature and Messiah's depth caused the cramping, Borski said.


"Personally I really felt it because you go from 15-20 degree weather and snow to 70-80 degrees," Borski said. "It takes a toll on your body."


For two teams that allowed just a combined 15 goals entering the contest, the first half featured an unexpected flurry of end-to -end action. Before Friday's semifinals, each team had surrendered just a single goal in the tournament. By halftime, though, the teams combined for three goals on 15 shots.


Messiah got on board at 19:37 of the first half when Pezon's shot from 25 yards out caromed off goalkeeper James Pike's chest and went directly to Danny Thompson. The junior forward one-timed the rebound into the right corner of the goal for a 1-0 lead. It marked the first time the Titans had surrendered a goal in 348 minutes.


The Falcons struck again 11 minutes later when junior midfielder Derek Black made a run along the left touchline and delivered a cross to the head of Danny Thompson at the middle of the left box. Thompson flicked it off to junior forward Trevor Lee, who headed it into the left corner of the goal.


Messiah also saved a probable goal when junior defender Jordan Sands cleared a ball off the goal line early in the first half.