Shootout triumph gives underdog Lancers victory over men’s soccer

The Worcester State Lancers (15-2-3) upset the Williams Ephs (15-1-1) in the regional semifinals with a 4-3 penalty kick victory on Saturday. Though the Ephs thoroughly outplayed the Lancers ? the Ephs outshot the Lancers 48-8 on the day – 120 minutes of thrilling soccer left the game even at 3-3. Dylan Smith ’03 and Walker Waugh ’02 missed their shots in the penalty kick round, however, and the Lancers managed to steal the victory from the stunned Ephs.

“What do you say after a game like that?” said Worcester State head coach Dave Morris. “Williams is obviously the better team –  we don’t even have an all-state player let alone three all-Americans.

“You have to hand it to our guys today, even though we let up what seemed like a million breakaways, our defense hung tough. More importantly though, we were able to finish on our opportunities. It was like a boxing match where we were just getting pummeled, but we refused to go down. It’s a dream for us to be here, and this win is unbelievable.”

The Ephs drew first blood in just the fourth minute of play when Josef Powell ’02 converted on a penalty kick. Ted Giannacopoulos ’02 broke through the Lancer defense but was tripped within the box, setting up the penalty kick.

The Lancers evened the contest in the 33rd minute of play when Jared Downey received a wall pass from Nabgh Abdulky and sent a blast into the lower right-hand corner of the net from 20 yards out.

The Lancers forged ahead with a little under three minutes remaining in the first half when Abdulky received a through pass from Matt Eppy and shot the ball past the Williams goalkeeper, Robbie Kirsher ’03. Also assisting on the play was Glade Dennis.

The Ephs tied the game up in the 53rd minute of play when Powell sent a pass down the field from within the Ephs’ defensive territory. Charging after the ball were Alex Blake ’03, who was named the NESCAC Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, and Lancer goalkeeper Chris Couture. Blake ultimately won the 50-50 ball, set himself and wove a shot around two Lancer defenders to make it a 2-2 contest.

Fifteen minutes later the Lancers took the lead once again. Greg Bennett’s chip pass off a free kick found Justin Vallas just feet away from the Eph goal, and he managed to knock a shot past Kirsher to give the Lancers a 3-2 lead.

Blake sent the game into overtime with a dramatic goal with just two minutes remaining in regulation. On a free kick, Powell touched the ball off to Blake before the Lancers could properly coordinate their defense, and Blake sent a blast toward the net that Couture was able to get a hand on, but only so as to knock the ball into the top of the net.

With a large, vocal crowd in their corner, the Ephs seemed to have the game in their pocket in the two sudden-death overtime periods.

The Ephs had myriad scoring opportunities, many of which came via fast breaks. Blake and Khari Stephenson ’04 had many such opportunities, but never managed to find the back of the net.

The game advanced to penalty kicks following the two overtime periods. After each team’s first three players converted on their shots, Smith’s placement shot hit off the left post and ricocheted away from the net.

Following Smith’s missed shot, Ray Cheria sent his shot into the upper-center of the goal to give the Lancers a 4-3 edge. Waugh would shoot fifth for the Ephs, and with the Ephs’ season on the line, Waugh’s shot was blocked by Couture to seal the victory for the Lancers.

“What can you say, it’s just one of those games,” Powell said. “We totally dominated throughout ? particularly late in the second half and in the overtime periods, we had so many opportunities. We definitely had enough chances to win, and I have to take my hat off to them, they never quit.”

“It’s one of the most frustrating games that I’ve ever been affiliated with. We didn’t deserve to win, basically,” Williams head coach Mike Russo said. “We just weren’t sharp in any regard, it wasn’t a pretty performance and I can’t pinpoint why.

“When we play like we played against Middlebury last week and then we come out today and just don’t get it done, there’s just no rhyme or reason. You have to give them credit ? they came to play, they didn’t quit and they kept battling.”

“I just said to the guys that you have to pick the pieces up and you can’t let on bad game make you lose sight of all that we’ve achieved. The guys have achieved so much this season, particularly the seniors, my heart bleeds for them ? they’ve given so much to the program and this is a terrible way to go out. We have to move on, it’s a tough pill to swallow but we have to move on.”

Worcester State went on to lose a hard-fought 1-0 game to the Wheaton Lyons (21-1-0) on Sunday in the regional finals. Wheaton will now represent New England against the Mid-Atlantic region’s champion.

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