PLYMOUTH, N.H. - And then there were eight.
Williams College advanced to the Elite Eight of the 1998 NCAA Division III men's soccer championship tournament Sunday with a hard-fought, 3-2 victory over top-seeded Plymouth State at Panther Field. The third-seeded Ephs scored a pair of second half goals to pull out the victory and the New England regional title.
Junior Matt Magiera (Lakeville, CT) broke a 2-2 tie with 8:05 remaining for the game-winner for Williams.
"This is exhilarating because Plymouth was a very, very difficult team to beat," said Williams head coach Mike Russo. "I think both Plymouth State and Williams didn't get the respect we deserved during the season. They're a very tough team, and we're very excited to get out of the region."
It was the first loss of the season for Plymouth State, which finishes a superb season with a 17-1-2 mark. Williams, 16-1, will play next weekend at St. Lawrence University (17-0-1), which won the NCAA Northeast Region title Sunday with a 1-0 overtime win over Clarkson.
"What a great game between two quality opponents," said PSC head coach Shawn Griffin. "They were opportunistic, and they finished. They were persistent and relentless, they just kept coming at us, and that is a tribute to their institution and their coach. We congratulate them on winning an excellent soccer game."
Senior Angelo Patentas (Piraeus, Greece) put Williams on the board first just 5:14 into the game, finishing off a cross from teammate Nick Trebat (Westport, CT). The Ephs nearly made it 2-0 midway through the half but a shot by Steve Danbusky (New Hyde Park, NY) hit the cross bar, and both teams had opportunities thwarted by keepers - Ryan Spicer (Barrington, RI) of Williams and Shawn Higgins (Foxboro, MA) of Plymouth State.
PSC evened the score at the 24 minute mark when junior Kevin Martin (Foxboro, MA) sent a ball into the Williams crease area, and Panther freshman reserve Antoine Moiboueyi (Gabon, Africa) ran around one defender and through two more before knocking the ball past Spicer, off the right upright and into the goal. The goal seemed to spark the Panthers and the home crowd of 700 fans, and PSC had several good scoring opportunities before the half.
"We got caught flat-footed in the first 15 minutes," said Griffin, "and they pressed and pressed and pressed. Once we decided we weren't gonna let them run us off our own field, we regrouped, and Antoine came in and made an immediate impact for us."
Plymouth State went ahead 2-1 just seven minutes into the second half on another pretty play set up by Martin. He sent a cross into the Williams goal area, and senior Jesse Elderkin (Concord, NH) used an acrobatic, sideways scissors kick from point blank range to rifle the ball past Spicer, ricocheting off the under side of the cross bar into the back of the net.
"The goal by Elderkin was an excellent goal, world class," said Russo. " I think a big key was after Plymouth got its second goal, they sat back a little. Not intentionally, but they may have been tired a little. That is a key consideration. They had to play back-to-back 90 minute games because of the close game yesterday, but we had a 5-0 game yesterday and were able to rest our starters a little bit."
"Jesse's goal was awesome," said Griffin. "He's had a great season and that was a great way to finish it. I'm so proud of that kid."
Williams did not panic, and fought back to tie it 14 minutes later. Danbusky blasted a free kick from about 20 yards out past a PSC wall of defenders and Higgins was forced to make a diving stop, but Dan Pozen (Newton, MA) was there on the doorstep for the rebound, and he put it past a fallen Higgins for the equalizer.
Just as Moiboueyi's goal sparked PSC in the first half, Pozen's goal seemed to inspire the Ephs. They continued to pressure the Panther goal, forcing Higgins to make several big plays. Williams got one past Higgins with 15 minutes to play, but PSC defender Scott Curran (Pawcatuck, RI) cleared the ball off the goal line before it went in.
With a little more than eight minutes remaining, Danbusky took a Williams corner kick and sent the ball right into the crease, where Magiera was there to head the ball past Higgins for the game-winner.
"I told Dan Pozen to stand in front of the keeper, because he had been so active all day," said Magiera. "The corner went through the keeper's hands and right to me, and I just put it in."
It was a higher-scoring game than expected, since Williams hadn't given up a goal since Oct. 3rd (12 games) and allowed only four all season, and Plymouth State had blanked its opponents since Oct. 17th (seven games) and hadn't allowed more than one goal in any game this year.
"I take my hat off to Plymouth State," said Russo. "It could've gone either way. We could've gotten a little lucky, too. We hope to represent New England well, and if we play like we can, we will."
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