MIDDLEBURY, VT- In the first of four win-or-go-home quarterfinals in the NESCAC Conference Tournament, the sixth-seeded Williams College Ephs pulled off a 1-0 upset against third-seeded Middlebury, snapping the Panthers' 10-game unbeaten streak (8-0-2) and their streak of 490 minutes without allowing a goal.
The Ephs now stand at 9-5-2 on the season, while Middlebury sports a 10-3-3 record.
These teams played last Tuesday, with Middlebury winning 2-0 in the match played on the Ephs' Cole Field. However, unlike earlier this week, Williams was exceptionally aggressive in the first half, a strategy that led to four corner kicks within the first three minutes of the match and a 2nd minute header from Nick Boardman '22 that was summarily blocked by a Panther defender.
Williams would not let up. Forward Demian Gass, in his first game back from an injury that sidelined him for over a month, was tremendous in his limited playing time, recording two dangerous shots that required legitimate saves from Middlebury goalie Matthew Hyer. Gass played his usual bruising, pacey style that makes him such a threat when healthy. Middlebury only recorded two shots in the first half, one of which was blocked, in a testament to spotless play from a veteran Eph backline including seniors Scatt McDonald and Sean Dory and junior Andrew Mathew.
The match was paused for 90 additional minutes during halftime due to lightning, and the delay seemed to affect each squad's ability to establish a consistent rhythm once the second half finally began. However, the tone of the match was changed entirely in the 57th minute, when Scatt McDonald struck a free kick into the tightly-concentrated box, where the ball bounced around and landed at the foot of Eric Hirsch '19, who kicked the ball right towards Hyer. However, the ball was wet, and slipped through Hyer's hands and into the net for the first and only goal of the match. Now playing with an even more heightened sense of urgency, the Panthers became more aggressive, but were matched step-for-step by a laser-focused Williams defense, who seemingly blocked or altered every Middlebury pass, cross, or shot in the last 30 minutes of the match.
The Ephs' relentless pursuit of the ball resulted in denying Middlebury a single shot on goal over the 90 minutes. "Today was an outstanding performance and gutsy road win," noted Eph head coach Erin Sullivan. "Our team was determined to respond and be first to the ball and every player competed his heart out.
Belief and unselfishness will continue to be very important qualities for us. Middlebury is an excellent side and an incredibly difficult place to play. Add the conditions of the match and the delay and it was a real test for us. I'm proud of how our team responded to everything that was thrown at us today."
Williams netminder Aaron Schein posted a clean sheet without having to make a save, while Middlebury goalie Matthew Hyer saved four Williams shots.
Williams' semifinal opponent is currently undetermined, but will be known after tomorrow's remaining matches. Check out NESCAC.com for more information. After tomorrow's games the highest remaining seeded team will host next weekend's NESCAC semifinals and finals.