PLYMOUTH, N.H. - Plymouth State College junior Justin Wengell (Newington, Conn.) headed a crossing pass past University of Massachusetts Dartmouth goalkeeper Jorge Fonseca (Ludlow, Mass.) with 3:07 remaining in the third overtime Sunday, handing the Panthers the Little East Conference men's soccer championship at Panther Field.
The victory earns PSC (14-4-0) an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III national championship tournament, which begins with first round games on Wednesday. UMD, which gave PSC its only conference loss (1-0) during the regular season, is now 15-5-1.
The Panthers outshot UMD 28-5 on the afternoon, but Fonseca was terrific for the Corsairs. He made several diving and acrobatic stops, finishing with 15 saves in the game, and was selected the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.
"This was almost a replica of the previous game against them," said PSC head coach Keith Byrnes. "We had a ton of chances. The good thing about three overtimes is that it gave us more chances to get a goal. It was only a matter of time before we got one. But their goalie was outstanding. He was the best player on the field."
"It was a hard-fought game and both teams played well, but unfortunately somebody had to lose," said UMD head coach Niall O'Donnell. "We played better today than when we beat them two weeks ago. Plymouth State has a very good defense. They pressed us most of the day, and were able to put very little pressure on them. But we rely on Jorge, and he was great today."
Plymouth State had several opportunities to get into the scoring column, including three times in the second half of regulation play. A UMD defender had to clear the ball off the goal line with 24 minutes left, Fonseca bobbled a shot with 14 minutes remaining, and PSC forward Antoine Moiboueyi (Gabon, Africa) clanged a shot off the post with five minutes on the clock.
The game-winning goal was set up by PSC seniors Jon Plater (Hillsboro, NH) and Scott Curran (Pawcatuck, Conn.). Plater tossed a throw-in to Curran along the left sideline. Curran returned the pass back to Plater, who sent a long crossing pass into the box, where Wengell headed it into the lower left corner of the net.
PSC players selected to the All-Tournament Team included Wengell, defenders Magnus Eriksson (Arjang, Sweden) and Simon Sendowski (Gothenberg, Sweden), forward Sal Friello (West Haven, Conn) and goalkeeper Brad Wilby (Haddonfield, NJ). UMD All-Tournament Team picks, in addition to Fonseca, included forward Tore Terrasi (South Easton, Mass.) and defenders Carlos Semedo (Boston, Mass.) and Russell Corkum (West Springfield, Mass.). Rounding out the All-Tourney Team were Western Connecticut's David Forero (West Haven, Conn.) and Keene State's Gerry Boggis (East Longmeadow, Mass.).
Plymouth State will make its 16th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and third in the last four years. It is also PSC's fourth straight post-season berth and seventh in the last eight years.
"It's a great feeling, and the guys deserve all the credit," said Byrnes. "A lot of them played in the NCAAs two years ago, and they were disappointed with an ECAC berth last season. From the very beginning of the season they were determined to get back to the NCAAs. They did all the work. I just sat by and enjoyed the ride."
Championship Match 1 2 OT OT OT - F #2 UMass Dartmouth (15-5-1) 0 0 0 0 0 - 0 #1 Plymouth State (14-4-0) 0 0 0 0 1 - 1
Scoring 3OT PSC Justin Wengell (Jon Plater), 131:53
Saves UMD: Jorge Fonseca 15 saves; PSC: Brad Wilby 2 saves