MIDDLEBURY, VT -- As the sun dwindled on Tuesday afternoon, Field Turf Field was the stage for some late drama between the soccer teams of Williams College (5-2-0, NESCAC 3-2-0) and Middlebury College (3-2-1, NESCAC 2-2-1).
With less than seven minutes to play, the Ephs held a 1-0 lead over the Panthers, who were throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the Ephs to find a late equalizer.
Freshman Panther Adam Glaser started a counter after a Williams corner, passing up the field to sophomore Tyler Bonini who dribbled toward the Ephs' penalty area. Bonini had a fight with Eph sophomore Noah Grumman for possession of the ball that eventually led to a Panther throw-in. The long throw-in was taken by junior Noah Goss-Woliner, whose throw floated into the box, where Eph junior Luke Pierce headed the ball out of immediate danger for a Panther corner. The ensuing corner was sent in toward the near post where towering freshman Greg Conrad was waiting to blast a header that went just wide of the target.
The sustained pressure of Middlebury continued and paid its dividends less than two minutes later, when Grumman was forced to foul Glaser right in front of senior Eph keeper Peter Morrell's goal. Conrad took the 25-yard free kick, blasting it past both the wall and Morrell to equalize with less than five minutes left on the clock, conjuring up the memories of late goals scored on the Ephs earlier this year by the likes of Trinity and Amherst.
It appeared that the game would be heading to overtime, but that was before Eph junior Matt Muralles had his say. A mere two minutes and three seconds after the goal, Eph sophomore and reigning NESCAC Rookie-of-the-Year Mohammed Rashid, in his first game back from injury, stole a poor pass in the midfield and then sent a through ball into Muralles. Muralles, who was determined to not let history repeat itself, made no mistake drilling the ball into the back of the net past Panther senior keeper Ethan Collins, handing Middlebury their first home loss of the season in dramatic fashion.
After the game, Eph head coach Mike Russo was elated by the Ephs victory: "It was a very exhilarating victory today. The boys came out and played extremely well, and I am very pleased, coming up here knowing it was a huge game for both teams. Coming out with the win today was big for us."
At the beginning of the game, the Panthers were the ones who appeared to have the upper-hand, dominating most of the possession early on.
In the 11th minute, however, a dispute between Eph junior Zach Grady and Panther senior Graham Knisley resulted in Knisley picking up a yellow card for shoving Grady to the ground after the whistle had already been blown for a foul.
Seemingly fired up by the conflict, Grady continued to press forward, looking for a goal against the run of play. That chance for a goal came, when Grady was once again fouled hard by a Panther defender, this time only 29 yards away from goal. Eph junior Andres Burbank-Crump took the resulting free kick from the left side of the goal with his magical left foot, curling the ball around the Panther defensive wall and just inside the left post, out of reach of the sprawling Collins, giving the Ephs a 1-0 lead inside of thirteen minutes and putting the Panthers behind in the first half for the first time this season.
Middlebury responded to the goal well, however, as their vast amount of possession turned into sustained pressure on the Williams penalty area. In the 30th minute, the Panthers created their best chance to score in the game thus far, when Conrad earned a free kick off Pierce deep on the left wing. The proceeding free kick was lifted into the middle of the box by senior Chris Ivsen, right onto the head of the leaping Conrad, whose shot was saved on the goal-line by Morrell at a full stretch.
Eight minutes later, the Panthers had another good chance to equalize through junior Dan Skayne, when the Ephs gave up another free kick, this time just inside their own defensive third. The free kick was taken by Knisley who flew the ball into the Eph penalty area, where it was partially cleared by Burbank-Crump, but the rebound fell to Skayne whose powerful volley was deflected out of danger by an onrushing Pierce.
The second half picked up right where the first left off, with immediate goal pressure by both teams. The Ephs had the first good look just three minutes into the half, when Muralles sent Eph senior Matt Kastner on goal with a nice lobbed through ball over the Panther back-line as Kastner made a knifing run through the defense. Kastner collected the ball, drove straight at Collins, and fired his shot toward the right corner of the goal that was only kept out by an impressive diving parry by Collins.
In the 63rd minute, the Panthers created a great chance of their own when Glaser once again initiated a wonderful counter, dribbling nearly end-to-end to the right side of the Ephs penalty area in order to get off a beautiful shot from a tight angle that forced Morrell to parry into the open area in front of his goal. The ball landed at the feet of Conrad who was not able to organize himself quickly enough to bury the ball into the back of the net, instead scuffing it wide of the left post.
Seven minutes later, the Panthers once again found themselves in possession of the ball inside the Ephs' penalty area. Skayne received a pass, turned, but was tackled hard by Eph freshman Patrick Gordon before he could take his shot. The Panthers' shouts for a penalty went unnoticed by the ref as play carried on.
However, the equalizer finally came for the Panthers in the 85th minute, but the Ephs would not be outdone, scoring the game-winning goal by way of Muralles only two minutes later and silencing the home crowd.
After the game, coach Russo praised his team's resiliency: "If we didn't get a result here, we would have been in the bottom-half of the NESCAC table. What I took away was our resiliency, for giving up that late goal but turning right around and scoring one ourselves."
Eph senior goalie Peter Morrell stopped five of six Panthers' shots to collect his fifth win of the year. Middlebury's Ethan Collins stopped two of five Eph shots.
The Ephs next play at noon on Saturday at home against Skidmore. The Panthers also play again on Saturday but away at Tufts at 3 PM.