Men's Soccer Scores Double-OT Win at Williams
Issue   |   Tue, 09/24/2013 - 23:52
Megan Robertson '15, Public Affairs Office

Propelled by stingy defense and a golden-goal overtime strike by Max Fikke ’14, the men’s soccer team avenged last year’s heartbreaking NCAA quarterfinal loss with a gritty 1-0 win at Williams on Saturday.

For 105 scoreless minutes, Saturday’s tilt followed a similar script to Amherst-Williams soccer games in 2012, with two rivals locked in a physical, feisty defensive struggle. Last season, two of the three games ended in a 0-0 tie in regulation, and Saturday’s match appeared destined for the same conclusion.

But with just 4:31 on the clock, the Jeffs scored the decisive tally when Fikke corralled a low cross from Christopher Martin ’17 and buried a left-footed shot under the arms of the Williams goalkeeper, silencing the home crowd and sending the Amherst bench into a state of euphoric delirium.

With the last-gasp victory, the Jeffs — ranked No. 3 in the nation — improved to 5-0-1 (3-0-1 NESCAC), while No. 17 Williams dropped to 3-2-0 (1-2-0 NESCAC). Two of Amherst’s three NESCAC wins have been clinched in sudden-death overtime, the first coming in a 2-1 win over Middlebury on Sept. 7.

The Amherst-Williams soccer rivalry escalated last season as the teams tied for first place in the NESCAC standings with 8-0-2 records. In the conference championship game, the Jeffs defeated Williams 2-0 to clinch their second straight NESCAC title. The Ephs, however, enjoyed the last laugh in 2012, knocking Amherst out in the NCAA quarterfinals with a stunning victory in penalty kicks. The match ended at 0-0 — the Jeffs hit the crossbar five times in regulation — before the Ephs won the PK shootout 4-3.

Motivated all offseason by the painful NCAA defeat, the Jeffs tasted sweet revenge at Williams on Saturday, assuaging the bitter aftertaste from that harrowing November afternoon.

“Every year, beating Williams is one of the goals of our program,” head coach Justin Serpone said. “For this year’s senior group to be able to do it in dramatic fashion at Williams made it a memorable afternoon.”

With both teams running high on adrenaline for the emotional contest, the game started at a breakneck pace, with a steady stream of aggressive tackles and fierce battles for 50-50 balls. Although Williams controlled much of the opening ten minutes, the Jeffs produced the first good scoring chance of the game in the 16th minute, when Fikke lofted a long throw into the box that rolled untouched across the face of the goal. Amherst’s Martin nearly buried the loose ball, but Williams defender Dan Lima barely cleared the ball from danger.

Looking to jolt the offense near the end of the first half, the Jeffs switched to a 4-3-3 formation (with three forwards instead of two) ten minutes before halftime. The tactical switch paid dividends as the Jeffs created a slew of promising scoring chances late in the half, but the score remained 0-0 after 45 minutes.

After backpedaling late in the first half, Williams came out with renewed attacking energy after the intermission. The Ephs threatened after a sequence of incisive passes in the 58th minute, but the Amherst defense recovered to stifle the opportunity. Ten minutes later, the Ephs nearly scored from a long throw-in, but Nathan Miller’s shot attempt was blocked by an Amherst defender before Chris Seitz missed left on the ensuing rebound.

Both teams buckled down on defense for the remainder of regulation, setting the stage for yet another overtime thriller in the Williams rivalry.

The tempo of play accelerated in the overtime session, as both teams desperately pushed forward for the full three points. With the game starting to open up, the Jeffs enjoyed their best scoring chance of the afternoon (thus far) in the 99th minute. Martin weaved his way around a few Williams defenders — showcasing great footwork and dribbling skills — before sending a cross from the right flank. Nico Pascual-Leone ’15 raced to the back post to head the incoming ball, but Ephs’ goalie Peter Morrell stopped the header with a flailing right leg save.

Relentlessly building up offensive pressure near the Williams net, the Jeffs finally broke through in the 106th minute, with 4:31 left in the second overtime period. The speedy, dangerous Martin once again tormented the Williams defense along the right sideline, racing past two Ephs before sending a low cross into the box. Settling the pass from about 12 yards out, Fikke took a quick touch before smashing a left-footed shot past Morrell.

After spending his first three years at Amherst as a part-time starter, Fikke has emerged into one of the team’s most valuable players as a box-to-box central midfielder, dominating possession in the center of the field, winning 50-50 balls consistently and torturing defenses with his colossal throw-ins into the box.

“I couldn’t have been happier for Max Fikke to score the game winner,” Serpone said. “He’s been an integral part of our program for the last few years. Good things happen to good people and Max will remember Saturday for a lifetime.”
Serpone also lauded seniors Brendan Caslin, Ben Norton, Julien Aoyama and Rob Gooden for their tenacious play on the defensive side of the ball.

“Ben, Julien, Brendan and Rob played a major role in preserving the shutout,” Serpone said. “They battled for all 105 minutes and deserve a lot of credit for Saturday’s win.”

Before Saturday’s dramatic victory at Williams, the Jeffs were actually coming off a disappointing 0-0 draw against Conn. College (2-1-2, 0-1-2 NESCAC) on Wednesday.

Amherst held a 16-7 edge in shots, but could not find a way to solve Camels’ goaltender Max Nichols, who made several diving and close-range stops to frustrate the Jeffs. Wednesday’s scoreless result marked the first time the Jeffs had failed to score in a game this season, having racked up 13 goals in their first four matches.

The Jeffs hope to build off last weekend’s triumph over Williams as they host Tufts (4-1-1, 2-1-0 NESCAC) for a Saturday afternoon clash on Hitchcock Field. The Jumbos feature one of the most prolific offenses in the league, scoring 13 goals in six games this season (an average of 2.17 goals per game).

“They have very good attacking players, and are going to be very focused when they come to Amherst,” Serpone said.