Tenth national title for Messiah!
Cover photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
Junior Jack Thompson watches Jeremy Payne's winning
Messiah has done it again, winning their second national championship in a row, and tenth in fourteen years, by defeating No. 2 Rutgers-Camden 2-1 in double overtime. Junior midfielder Jeremy Payne struck the winning shot for the Falcons after the two sides had battled for over 103 minutes.
The game opened with the teams trading opportunities before Messiah was the recipient of a fortunate deflection for the second straight night to open the scoring. Junior Brian Ramirez's shot from 20 yards glanced off a defender's head changing its path enough that the goalkeeper could not get to it as it bounced over the line just inside the right post. Rutgers-Camden seemed to begin the game choosing to conserve energy on the defensive side of ball which allowed Messiah the space to work the ball upfield. However, the Scarlet Raptors did seem intent on keeping Messiah off-rhythm by playing a very physical game. And despite the early goal, that approach did at least partially slow down the Falcons.
Possession favored the defending champions and given their more patient possession-first approach, the game did not have the frenetic pace of Rutgers-Camden's semifinal match against Loras; it also did not have as many goal scoring opportunities. And neither team took full advantage of the few good looks they did create. The best chances for Messiah came near the half hour mark. First junior Jack Thompson cut into the middle from the left and unleashed a hard shot from the top of the box that the goalkeeper could only parry wide. Then, less than a minute later, a deflected pass found senior Josh Wood drifting behind the defense on the right side of the area for a one-on-one chance, but his low shot rolled wide of the far post.
|Rutgers-Camden senior Taylor
McGrory competes for the ball. His 2nd half goal sent the game into
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
In short order, Rutgers-Camden had perhaps their best chance of the opening stanza. A loose touch by Messiah's Carter Robbins as he tried to work the ball out of the back allowed the ball to be pushed ahead to sophomore Mike Ryan whose first touch and turn saw him behind the defense on the right but he didn't make good contact on his shot from just inside the area and junior Brandon West was able to smoother the effort falling to his right. The first half would end with Messiah maintaining their 1-0 lead and holding a 12-7 advantage in shots, but just two on frame, same as the yet undefeated Raptors.
The Falcons did not seem as sharp when play resumed in the second half, while Rutgers-Camden seemed to improve upon a respectable, but uncompelling first half showing. And just over five minutes after the intermission, Ryan almost nabbed the equalizer for the Raptors in stunning fashion when he swiveled at the corner of the 6-yard box to volley the ball toward goal. Fortunately for Messiah, the effort was a little high and wide. It was Ryan again in the 62nd minute beating his man down the left sideline and then squeezing off a centering ball under pressure on the end line, but the ball rolled all the way out the other side of the box without being touched, begging for a teammate to have made a far post run.
Messiah wasn't without their chances, and in the 66th minute when Thompson teed up Ramirez with a lateral pass for him to run onto in stride about 20 yards out, you could see the ball going in to put Messiah on their way to a tenth title, but the midfielder’s rocket went over the bar. The next ten minutes saw Messiah pin the Raptors in their half of the field for long stretches, but no clear cut chances resulted. Then, just when it seemed that Messiah would surely see the game out for the win, they handed Rutgers-Camden a lifeline when Robbins couldn't trap a hopeful ball forward and Taylor McGrory raced onto the ball and rounded the keeper before passing the ball into the empty net as the clock ticked down to 12 minutes remaining. The senior couldn't have saved his only two goals of the season for more important moments, the other being the game-tying goal with under three minutes to play in previous day's seminfinal. Having even things up against Falcons, it seemed that just maybe it was the Raptors' destiny to claim their first national championship.
Frey goes high in the air to make a play.
Photo by Larry Radloff, d3photography.com
Of course, the proud Falcons would not go down easily, and they almost regained the lead with just over six minutes to play when Thompson cut in from the left and beat two defenders before blazing a shot high over the bar. It would be the last good look on goal for either side as nothing came of a couple potentially dangerous free kicks for Messiah in the closing minutes. The second half would end knotted at one a piece. Messiah again held an edge in shots taken in the half, 12 to 9, but shots on goal were even at three each.
Little more than two minutes into extra time, senior Mitch Grotti tested Brandon West with a long-range effort, but the Messiah netminder was sure-handed in gathering in the ball. Outside a high-bouncing ball that almost snuck over West and under the crossbar, the rest of the chances of first overtime belonged to Messiah who erupted for six shots in five minutes. A great chance fell to Thompson whose shot from the left only found outside netting when it appeared there was room to sneak it inside the near post, and with one minute left Raptor keeper Mike Randall came up huge to block a Josh Wood poke at close range.
In the second overtime period there seemed to be just one man to finish the game: Messiah's Jeremy Payne. A half minute in he headed just over the bar from a Thompson cross, and in the third minute his 25-yard blast was too hot for Randall to hold, rebounding into danger before being cleared out of the area. The third time was a charm when the junior midfielder slotted home from in front of the penalty stripe off a centering pass from Wood, setting off that emotional scene of stark contrast: euphoria for one team and its fans; dejection for the other.
Messiah had done it again—an unbelievable tenth title in fourteen years. The champions were not always at their best in this game, but it would be hard to argue that the better team did not win. Yet Rutgers-Camden acquitted themselves well, battling throughout, respecting Messiah, but clearly not fearing them. They did very well to limit the Falcon’s good looks on goal after they advanced into the offensive third. Going the other direction, the Raptors created enough opportunities of their own to have given themselves a chance to win. Surely they will wonder what could have been if not for the deflection that gave Messiah its first and only goal in regulation. On the other side of the coin, if there’s not that Messiah miscue that led to Rutgers-Camden’s goal and if Thompson doesn’t spurn any one of the chances you would have expected him to convert given his incredible run of form in the tournament, maybe it’s a more comfortable win for Messiah.
All in all, the two teams gave us a hard-fought, well-played final, and in the end the near perennial champions prevailed over the upstarts gunning for their first-ever title. Messiah ends their season 24-1-1 while Rutgers-Camden, like Trinity (Tx.) in the women’s final, loses their undefeated record, slipping to 23-1-2. Headlining the all-tournament team, Messiah’s Thompson was named the Outstanding Offensive Player, while Outstanding Defensive Player honors went to the Raptor’s McGrory.