Even before a header by Dylan Smith ’03 mistakenly found the top of the Williams goal to give the Polar Bears a stunning 3-2 victory in overtime on Saturday, it was clear from the competitiveness of the game that somewhere between Nov. 10, 2001 and Sept. 21, 2002 there had been a changing of the guard in men’s soccer.
In a scene that would have been altogether out of place in any of the past four seasons, the Ephs (3-1-0) got their first taste of defeat as the Polar Bears (2-1-0) came into the Purple Valley and captured a 3-2 victory in the sixth minute of the first overtime period.
The mighty Williams Ephs had fallen to the Bowdoin Polar Bears on their home turf, and now the Ephmen could be in position to head into the great unknown of mediocrity.
To their credit, the Ephs did well to make a game of it after falling behind 2-0 in the first half, but for all the opportunities the team was able to string together down the stretch, they were never able to find the back of the net.
“Any time you play Williams you know it’s a big game,” Bowdoin Head Coach Brian Ainscough said. “I thought that during the course of the whole 90 minutes that this was the first time that Bowdoin, or actually many teams in the country for that matter, played head-to-head with a Williams team â€“ I didn’t think it was one-sided at any point.
“Maybe we just got them on a bad day, but I thought our guys were ready to take it to them. It was a great win for our program. I can’t remember the last time we beat Williams â€“ certainly not in my tenure â€“ so this is a great win for us.”
Bowdoin jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first half after goals by Andrew Russo and Bobby Desilets came within three minutes of one another after 35 minutes of scoreless soccer.
While Russo more benefited from being in the right place at the right time, Desilets’ goal was a beauty; the sophomore chipped the ball over the head of the Eph goalkeeper, Robbie Kirsher ’03, who was removed at the half in favor of Nick Armington ’06.
The Ephs were not about to go quietly, however. Alex Blake ’03 scored a goal seven minutes into the second half, and Khari Stephenson ’04 evened things up in the 74th minute.
Then, with the momentum in their favor, the Ephs hit a snag. Williams could not manage to put the ball in the back of the net either at the end of the second half or in the opening minutes of the overtime period, all of which set up the unsatisfying conclusion.
The trajectory of the Polar Bear corner kick had the ball falling back to heading height at the near post, where Smith was stationed. Smith attempted to head the ball back and out of play behind the Eph goal but he was not able to get enough on his header and the ball sunk into the top of the Williams goal.
“It was a very disappointing game,” Head Coach Mike Russo said. “I think in the first half they definitely outplayed us â€“ 50-50 balls they wanted more than us and they always came hard to the ball.
“They had a game plan â€“ not that it was an attractive game plan necessarily, but it worked. When you go down 2-0 it’s very hard to come back against a team that’s intent on playing defensively.
“To come back to 2-2 I thought was a very positive thing and then in overtimes anything can happen, and we let our guard down, obviously. It was unfortunate for Dylan that it was an own goal because he played his heart out all game, but these things happen.
“Overall it’s disappointing, but I think this year is going to be a different kind of year, one where we are going to have some adversity,” Russo continued. “I told the guys the key now is in how we respond to this, that our response is what will make or break us. We need to deal with it, get on with it and look forward to playing Trinity on Saturday.”
Earlier in the week â€“ back when the world of men’s soccer made sense â€“ Blake scored three goals and Stephenson had two of his own as the Ephs trounced the Owls of Westfield State (1-2-1) by a final score of 7-0. Though he went largely unchallenged in the net, the shutout victory was the first of Armington’s young collegiate career.
Though his name will not show up as often as Blake’s or Stephenson’s in the box score for any match this season, Russo credited Perry Kalmus’s ’03 goal in the seventh minute of play as being the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“They came out with a lot of intensity; they were pumped,” Russo said. “I thought that after Perry scored that early goal that sort of took the wind out of their sails.”
Kalmus’s unassisted goal came on a corner kick in which he managed to bend the ball into the Owl goal to give the Ephs an early 1-0 lead.
After Kalmus put the first dent in the Westfield armor, Stephenson scored two straight goals before Blake came up with three of his own. With the Ephs out to a commanding 6-0 lead, Skye Riggs ’05 capped the Williams scoring in the 81st minute with his second goal of the season.
The past week in men’s soccer will not be remembered for the time Williams embarrassed Westfield State, however; it will be remembered for the time Williams fell to Bowdoin in front of its home fans.
The Ephs, who had been ranked sixth in the country in a poll of NSCAA Div. III coaches, will have a week off to mull over their defeat before squaring off against Trinity this Saturday.
After losing six starters to graduation â€“ including three All-Americans â€“ it was pretty plain to the average fan that this would indeed be a “different kind of year.” On Saturday reality hit home, and what the Ephs will have to remember now is that though the aura may be lost, the season is not. Last season, even the Ephmen lost two games, one a legitimate loss to conference foe Middlebury and the other a fluke to Worcester State.
One defeat does not make or break a season in early September, but dynasties, the product of years and years of excellence, can be lost in a day â€“ and if Williams comes back to the pack this season, Sept. 21 will be remembered as the day that broke a dynasty in Div. III athletics.