PAYBACK: Men’s soccer crushes Middlebury to win NESCAC crown, avenge early season loss

Men’s soccer (15-1-0) beat the Middlebury Panthers (9-6-2) in Sunday’s NESCAC tournament title game by a score of 5-1 to validate a spectacular season with a NESCAC crown. Though the Ephs trailed the Panthers in the early goings of the game, Williams dominated the pace of play and thoroughly asserted their brand of soccer on Middlebury, the defending NESCAC champions.

Sunday’s win not only avenges the1-0 defeat that Williams suffered in last year’s title game following four overtime periods, but also the 1-0 defeat Middlebury handed the Ephs on Oct. 27 – the team’s first regular season loss since 1998. Over the team’s 51-game unbeaten streak, Williams had gone 50-0-1.

None of that mattered Sunday, though, as the Ephmen played their most impressive game of the season. The Ephs outshot the Panthers 31-10 and dominated play from the get-go.

“I thought it was a very well-played game,” said head coach Mike Russo. “I was pleased with the way the guys responded, our work-rate today was the best we’ve had all year and you couldn’t ask for that to happen at a better time. It was a total team effort – I really can’t say enough about the effort we put in today.”

The Panthers scored their lone goal when a cross off a set piece resulted in a fight for aerial domination. With the Ephs trying desperately to clear the ball, Todd Maloney finally got his head on the ball and managed to knock the ball past the Eph goalkeeper, Robbie Kirsher ’03, to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute.

“There was never any sense of nervousness on our side,” said co-captain Marc Williams ’02. “It frustrated us, but we made sure to keep it all in perspective, we kept our heads in the game and didn’t let it get to us – it’s a 90-minute game.”

It would not take the Ephs long to even the score, however, as it was a 1-1 contest only a minute and a half later. Khari Stephenson ’04 collected the ball on the right flank and sent a cross into the box that went through the hands of Panther goalkeeper Brian Hamm. Alex Blake ’03, the NESCAC conference’s leading scorer for the second consecutive season, received the ball and sent a shot into the open net.

The Ephs would take the lead in the 32nd minute on a beautiful goal by Josef Powell ’02. Ted Giannacopoulos ’02 drove the ball down to the goal line after a throw in and sent a high-arching chip to the right side of the goal that found Powell. Powell struck the ball into the net past Hamm on a volley to give the Ephmen a 2-1 advantage.

Stephenson would score a goal of his own in the 53rd minute following an outstanding effort from Ryan Olsen ’04. An attempted clear by the Panthers hit a charging Olsen in the chest, and after chasing the ball down and hustling down the left flank, Olsen dished the ball off to Stephenson who was open in the middle of the 18-yard box. Stephenson collected the pass and sent a shot into the right-hand corner of the goal to make it a 3-1 game.

Powell would score the Ephs’ fourth goal on a penalty kick in the 69th minute. Powell had taken the first few strides of a fast break after he burned two defenders, but he was tripped from behind within the 18-yard box, setting up a penalty kick. Powell sent his shot into the lower right-hand corner of the net that Hamm, who guessed left, was in no position to stop.

Schyuler Riggs ’05 closed out the scoring in the 89th minute on a pretty goal. Eric Stein ’02 sent a pass to Riggs who was open in the middle of the field from about 25 yards out. Riggs collected the ball and sent a blast into the upper left-hand corner of the net to give the Ephs a 5-1 lead.

“We were beaten today by a team that totally deserved to win,” Middlebury head coach David Saward said. “No decisions made by anybody beyond what they did on the field could have changed the outcome. We might have got a bit unlucky with the first goal, but that’s soccer. I give all the credit to them, I wish them well. I hope they can go on and win the tournament for all of us.”

The Ephs will now prepare for NCAA tournament action, which will begin for the Ephs on Nov. 10. Williams will play Worcester State at 10:30 a.m. on Cole Field. The NCAA final will be noon on Sunday.

“The whole team feels completely motivated right now,” said Williams. “Not only did we come out today and get a win, but it was also probably our strongest team game of the season. Everyone’s in a rhythm and we’re playing in sync with one another – this is a good time to be peaking.”

In the team’s semifinal match against Bowdoin (10-5-1) on Saturday, the Ephs went almost 66 minutes before scoring.

“Teams always seem to play us with one or two strikers up front and everyone else behind the ball and Bowdoin was very effective with that in the first half,” said Russo. The Ephs out shot the Polar Bears 11-5 in the opening half, but could not get the ball past the Polar Bears’ keeper, Travis Derr.

“When teams pack it in on us we need to show patience and take the good shots,” said Russo. “I thought we started doing that in the second half much better.”

Just over 64 minutes in, Stephenson lined up a free kick from 25 yards out and boomed a shot off the cross bar. In the ensuing bedlam in the box, each team got a chance to hit the ball and it eventually came to the feet of Williams. He boomed the ball into the lower left corner of the goal to give the Ephs the only goal they would need at 64:55. The goal was Williams fourth of the season.

Giannacopoulos helped set up the Ephs’ second goal, but was not credited with an assist. It was a Giannacopoulos pass to Blake in the box that created a penalty kick opportunity for the Ephs when Blake was tripped.

Powell took the penalty shot for the Ephs and his attempt was deflected by Derr. Powell, however, raced in to cross the deflection back to Blake who slotted his 23rd goal of the year at 74:24. An alert Riggs capped the game’s scoring when he pounced on a pass back that was intended for Derr and he re-directed it into the net.