Ephs knock off Panthers to clinch spot in semis

Matt Kastner ’14 recorded an assist on the men’s second goal on Saturday, helping them secure a 3-2 victory over Middlebury. - Photo Courtesy of Sports Information
Matt Kastner ’14 recorded an assist on the men’s second goal on Saturday, helping them secure a 3-2 victory over Middlebury. – Photo Courtesy of Sports Information

On Saturday, third seeded men’s soccer (10-5, 6-4 in the NESCAC) hosted Middlebury in the first round of the NESCAC playoffs in a must-win game. The Ephs produced one of their best attacking displays of the season, ending the game ahead 3-2 to dispatch the Panthers for the second time this season. In the last game of the regular season on Oct. 30, the men could not hold on to an early lead at home, losing 2-1 to a scrambling Hamilton team that was looking to play its way into the NESCAC postseason.

In front of a raucous crowd, Williams hosted Middlebury on Saturday in what was the most important game of the season thus far. The men got off to a poor start, conceding a goal just 2:12 into the first half. A well-placed cross found Panther Greg Conrad completely unmarked six yards from the goal, and his header just escaped the flailing right arm of goalkeeper and co-captain Peter Morrell ’14.

The Ephs proved resilient, as their offense began to show a little more bite. In the 27th minute, the men tied the score. Winger Malcolm Moutenot ’17 and forward Matt Kastner ’14 played a neat one-two on the right flank that created acres of space for Moutenot. Moutenot showed excellent strength to hold off a Panther defender and take the ball all the way to touchline where he picked out a wide open Mohammed Rashid ’16 at the back post. Rashid calmly slid the ball into the back of the net, tying the game at 1-1 at 26:25.

Buoyed by their first half goal, the Ephs started the second half excellently, scoring two goals in the span of eight minutes. The first goal of the second half came courtesy of co-captain Dan Lima ’14, who was playing forward instead of central defense. After a series of failed crosses, the ball wound up at the feet of Kastner, who laid it off for Lima at the top of the box. Lima ripped his shot past the Panther keeper, giving the Ephs a well-deserved 2-1 lead in the 49th minute.

Still hungry, Williams broke through the Middlebury defense once again, this time courtesy of some excellent play from Matt Muralles ’15 and Rashid. Muralles played a chip over the top of the Panther defense for Rashid, who controlled it excellently with his first touch. With his next touch, Rashid slid the ball under the right arm of the onrushing Panther goalkeeper, giving the Ephs a commanding 3-1 at 56:06.

The Ephs’ offense, which was clicking on all cylinders, nearly produced a fourth goal twice. “Later in the game, we opened them up a bit and could have had one or two more goals,” Head Coach Mike Russo said. “We showed a little more composure in the attacking third of the field and were able to get behind their defense and score goals.”

First, Rashid raced down the left wing and his cross found Moutenot all alone at the back post. However, Moutenot’s volley sailed over the crossbar. Next, it was Moutenot’s turn to speed down the wing, and he laid the ball off for Muralles, who back-heeled the ball toward Rashid. Rashid failed to finish, sending his shot over the crossbar as well.

“We have two very fast wingers in Moutenot on the left and Rashid on the right, who are both very good at running at defenders and beating them,” Russo said. “They’re both very fast and did a good job creating great opportunities.”

The Panthers gained a consolation goal in the 85th minute after a penalty was awarded for a handball in the box. However, the Ephs’ defense easily saw out the win.

On Oct. 30, the men hosted Hamilton in their final game of the regular season. The Ephs dominated the first 15 minutes of the game and scored a well-deserved goal in the 14th minute. Kastner played a pass to Rashid, who laid the ball off for the on-rushing Muralles at the top of the box. Muralles hit an absolute firecracker of a shot across to the left side netting, putting the men up 1-0.

Despite their strong start, the Ephs could not double their lead, as the Continentals instead tied the game in the 23rd minute against the run of play after the Ephs’ defense broke down. The Ephs’ defense conceded a wide-open shot at the top of the box, which Contintental John McGuinnis buried over the right shoulder of Morrell to tie the game at 1-1.

In the second half, the play began to open up even more, and both teams created good chances to score. Hamilton, though, broke the deadlock in the 72nd minute. Hamilton’s Bayard Geeslin took down a cross, maneuvered his way into the box and calmly slotted Hamilton’s most important goal of the season between the legs of a helpless Morrell. The goal put the Continentals up 2-1.

After the goal, the Ephs’ offense roared back to life. A mere three minutes later, Rashid was taken down in the box from behind, resulting in a penalty. Muralles, the men’s usual penalty taker, was not in the game, so the men called on free kick specialist Andres Burbank-Crump ’15. However, Burbank-Crump blasted his penalty over the crossbar.

Following the miss, the Ephs still refused to go down quietly, as they nearly scored again in the 83rd minute. Geoff Danilack ’16 played Jonathan Westling ’16 in on goal, and his ensuing low shot beat the keeper but was cleared off the line by a Hamilton defender. The clearance, though, did not go very far, and there was a scramble in the Hamilton six-yard box. The ball wound up at the feet of Rashid, two yards from goal, but a Hamilton defender and goalkeeper both dove frantically and managed to keep the ball out of the net.

A few minutes later, an Eph header was again cleared off the line by a Hamilton defender. Despite dominating the game for large spells, Williams succumbed 2-1.

Williams travels to Amherst to play second seed Wesleyan in the semifinals of the NESCAC playoffs this Saturday at 11 a.m. If Williams defeats Wesleyan, the men will take on the winner of the Amherst and Bowdoin game on Sunday at Amherst.