Men’s Soccer Finds Way into NCAA Tournament Earning an At-Large Bid Following a Stellar Championship Weekend

By RILEY PLANT

In Nescac Championship action last Sunday, Nov. 5, at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, the fifth-seeded Middlebury men’s soccer team (12-6) was just missed pulling off an upset of the conference’s best team and the tournament’s top-seeded Jumbos (15-1-2). It was a grueling effort that ended in a 1–0 score.

The game winning goal came with only 2:56 left on the clock and earned the Jumbos their first ever Nescac Championship title, although Tufts is currently the reigning national champion.

The Jumbos only gave up one goal during the entire season and will look to extend their streak in the NCAA tournament.

“This team [Middlebury] has been magnificent,” commented a proud head coach David Saward. “When I think where this group was after the Tufts result on Oct. 7 [a 4–0 road loss] to how they performed today, it was ‘night and day.’”

To qualify for the Nescac Championship game against Tufts, Middlebury had to get passed Bowdoin a day earlier on Saturday, Nov. 4. Another scoreless regulation period sent the game into eventual double overtime, when Drew Goulart ’20 managed to net his fifth goal of the season on a 28-yard rip from the left side of the field into the top right corner.

In Sunday’s championship game, Middlebury controlled the ball well in the first 25 minutes of the first half and managed three shots on goal. In the 27th minute, Peter Davis ’19 sent a high ball into the box to give 6’4” Brandon Reid ’21 a chance to put a header into the net, but the Tufts goalkeeper managed to punch the ball away, squashing the Panthers’ opportunity.

Middlebury again had a great look in the dwindling seconds of the first half as Daniel O’Grady ’19 sent a hard shot skipping towards the net, but Tufts Goalie Connor Mieth was again able to stuff the opportunity.

In the 58th minute, Kevin Halladay and Tufts were robbed of a goal by Middlebury keeper Jeremy Yeager ’18 as he made a full-extension diving save to his left to punch away a 20 yard bending shot on target for the upper right corner.

“There were many heroes out there today including Yeager in goal who made two excellent saves,” said Saward. “Alongside his performance, [Kyle] Moffat ’19 and [Aidan] Robinson ’20 were magnificent in the middle of the defense as were Davis and Davis Oudet ’20.”

Unfortunately, Yeager’s 427 minutes of consecutive shutout play would come to an end in the dwindling moments of regulation in a game that looked destined for extra time, as Tufts’ Brett Rojas found the back of the net in the 88th minute.

The scoring play developed as Zach Lane found space on the right side of the field, dribbled towards the goal line, and let a low cross fly towards the six-yard box where it connected with the head of a charging Rojas. The header skipped into the bottom left corner and would seal the game for Tufts as Middlebury could not muster another chance before the final whistle.

In somewhat of a surprise, on Monday afternoon the Panthers were awarded an at-large bid to NCAAs. They will take on Stevens this Saturday, Nov. 11, in Cortland, New York.

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