Williamstown, MA- In a first-round match absolutely rife with intensity and drama throughout its 110 minutes, the Middlebury Panthers headed home a game-winning goal with just three seconds left to advance to the NESCAC tournament semifinals.
A heartbroken Coach Erin Sullivan shared his emotions after the game, saying "I'm gutted for these seniors. This has been one of the most closely knit teams I've ever been a part of, as a player or coach, and we owe everything to this class of seniors...every time we took the field with this team, we got their level best."
Williams was on its game early in the first half, even taking care of the details. The Ephs gained possession off of almost every header, even those they didn't win (which was most of them), and forced Middlebury into ill-advised passes and fouls early on. The offense would also soon start creating, and in the 15th minute, Williams got its first good chance, when senior midfielder JC Bahr de Stefano hit a through ball on his left to a trailing Mohammad Rashid, who fired it from the top left edge of the box, but the ball was saved by Panther goalie Greg Sydor.
The 24th minute saw another terrific offensive play from Bahr de Stefano, who headed a ball over two Middlebury defenders to forward Mark Sisco-Tolomeo, who had a terrific opportunity right in front of the net, but fired it wide left.
For the most part, the Eph defense played extremely well in the first half, limiting Middlebury's offensive output, but blew a coverage in the 44th minute, leading to a 1-on-0 breakaway for Panther senior Adam Glaser, with Rashid frantically chasing him and only Alcorn standing between Glaser's foot and a 1-0 lead. Alcorn's presence would prove to be the difference on the chance, as he made an incredibly smart and aware decision to sprint out of the goal to meet Glaser halfway, taking the dribble and chance away from Middlebury. The half ended in a scoreless tie, and both squads had every reason to believe that they would be the victor of this match, but it would not be that simple.
The Ephs started the second half in attack mode, getting a corner kick in the 51st minute. Less than five minutes later, the momentum would continue to shift towards Williams, as forward Eric Hirsch dribbled up the right side of the pitch and shot to his left while falling backwards. However, this incredibly difficult shot almost gave Williams the lead, and Sydor had to jump to his right for the heroic save. Less than three minutes later, Rashid was working down the right half of the park, stopping forward movement when he was almost parallel to the goalie. Rashid fired a shot, but Sydor dove to make the stop.
Whilst the Ephs were continuing to push the offensive, however, none of their chances would come to fruition in the second half. The Panther back line continued to make excellent clearances, win headers, and block shots, frustrating Williams to no end. The closest chance of the match for the Ephs came in the 75th minute, when Brandon Dory headed a throw in to Bobby Fabricant, who also headed it towards the net. However, Sydor, possibly the Most Valuable Player of this match, deflected the ball out, and the opportunity was thwarted. For perhaps the final time this season, Williams would play an overtime match.
The first overtime period was quite eventful. Less than two minutes in, Panther forward Drew Goulart got the ball and sprinted towards the net. Alcorn was poised to make the save, but just to ensure Goulart wouldn't score, Eph defender Kevin Mercadante dashed down the length of the park to block his shot for an ensuing corner kick. Speaking of corner kicks, the outstanding play of Middlebury defense and the persistence of the Williams attack caused four corner kicks for Williams in less than four minutes. None of them even resulted in a shot, but the intensity of the Cole Field crowd seemingly gave Williams a momentum advantage it looked to never relinquish. However, that would not be the case.
After a relatively mild second overtime period, the Panthers got a corner kick with just seven seconds left on the clock. Sophomore Tim Ogle booted it in bounds, and off of a header from Daniel O'Grady, senior Kirk Horton continued his team's season, heading the ball past the Williams defense with just three seconds to go.
Coach Sullivan acknowledged the unlucky set of plays that ended the match, saying, "[It was] a quick set of transitions, from a long throw to a corner, to a peculiar stoppage of the clock. [Middlebury] whipped in a good ball and crashed the net."
On the match, Alcorn recorded three saves, while Sydor had a remarkable eight saves. The Panthers will advance and play seventh-seed Bowdoin, who upset Tufts 1-0.