Warriors shock the DIII world, upset Messiah in conference semifinals
GRANTHAM, Pa. – Patience. You better understand the word if you want to be a fan of the Lycoming College men's soccer team. It took three and a half hours and a seven-mile drive in the first playoff game. On Wednesday night, Nov. 6, fans didn't need to commute to see the conclusion, but it took seven rounds of penalty kicks before the fourth-seeded Lycoming could knock off top-seed and second-ranked Messiah, 5-4 in the shootout, at Shoemaker Field.
"I've never seen a group work so hard," Lycoming first-year head coach Nate Gibboney said, "fight so much, care so much. This group has not let up for a second all season. This team is young and we've gone through our ups and downs, but the one thing that has remained a constant has been the work rate and intensity. That got us a huge win tonight."
One of the biggest upsets in school history developed through 110 minutes of tight-rope walking scoreless soccer and seven rounds of the shootout before senior Justin Walker (Stroudsburg, Pa./Moravian Academy) blasted his kick into the upper left netting and Messiah's kick rolled wide.
"I walked onto the team this fall not knowing what to expect," Walker said, "and I found a group of guys that welcomed me in and made me a part of the team. We haven't stopped since and now we're here. We just beat Messiah. What more can you ask for?"
The Warriors move on to face Elizabethtown in the Commonwealth Conference Championship game on Saturday, Nov. 9, as the Blue Jays posted a 1-1 tie with Alvernia before winning on penalty kicks, 3-0.
In sudden death of the penalty kicks, senior Connor McNiff (Marietta, Pa./Donegal) found the left corner to start the sixth round, but so did Messiah, setting up Walker's kick.
"We shut Messiah out," McNiff said. "We weren't going to lose it. It was going to come down to PK's and we weren't going to lose it. I knew I had to bury mine and (junior goalkeeper) Connor Keenan was going to make a stop."
Junior Adam Kuntz (Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin) started the shootout by drilling a kick into the left netting, before Messiah missed its first kick. The Warriors were thwarted with a diving save on the second kick and Messiah tied it at one. Junior Luke Klingler (Bloomsburg, Pa./Bloomsburg Area) found the left corner to keep it tied at two at the end of the third round. Junior Trevor Bishop (Telford, Pa./Souderton Area) again found the left corner to keep it tied after the fourth round. In the fifth round, both teams failed to find the net.
In the end, Messiah went to overtime against a conference opponent for the first time in a string of 12 games and went to overtime in the Commonwealth Conference playoffs since a 2-1 win over Elizabethtown in the 2005 conference title game. The tie marked the first time second-ranked Messiah (18-1-1 overall) hadn't beat Lycoming (10-7-3 overall) since a 1-0 Middle Atlantic Conference playoff win in 1999.
"Messiah is an unbelievable team," Gibboney said. "They created their chances and our guys just hung in there. They battled, they kept their heads up and we were able to sneak one out in the end."
The first overtime was marked by solid pressure from both teams, but neither was able to take more than a shot that was blocked. Messiah had the best chance in the second overtime, when Josh Wood fired a shot across the box that skidded off the box and out of play. In the 110th minute, Jeremy Payne headed a ball off the crossbar and it rebounded off the post, but it crawled out of the net and out of bounds, sending the game into the shootout.
"There were a few close calls right at the end," junior Connor Keenan (Exton, Pa./Downingtown East) said, "but we stuck through it. We have the best backline in the MAC. I will take them against anyone. They shut them out for 90 minutes and I just had to make a couple key saves. They came up huge for me all season. All 24 guys, we are all a family and that's the reason we did this."
To start the second half, Keenan made his first save of the night when he stopped a laser of a shot from 30 yards out by Josh Kremers. Off a corner kick less than a minute later, Carter Robbins went wide with a header off the far post.
In the 57th minute, the Falcons got a pair more chances, but Keenan was brilliant each time, turning away a pair of solid chances. He stopped a shot by Josh Kremers off a free kick by diving to his right and then did the same with a shot from closer range from Wood.
"Connor played unbelievable," McNiff said. "He made two awesome saves and then with a minute left, he made punches it out. That's what you want out of a keeper."
In the 67th minute, the Warriors got their best chance of the first part of the second half, as freshman Mike Amaya (Stockton, N.J./Hunterdon Central Regional) got the ball with his back to the defense in the box and he flipped it to the right corner of the box, where freshman Moises Lazo (Bowie, Md./Bowie) fired a shot to the left corner where it was stopped by the Messiah keeper.
The Falcons, as usual, countered well, with Mike Kovach getting out in front of the defense, but his shot rolled wide right from outside the 18.
A pair of blocked shots in the 74th minute helped Lycoming escape another close call before Keenan scooped up the ball. In the 78th minute, Kovach got the ball near midfield and took off, but his shot from 15 yards out was smothered by Keenan.
In the 82nd minute, a pair more chances came off a corner for the Falcons, with a shot by Wood hitting the crossbar before one from Jack Thompson was headed out of bounds. In the 90th minute, the Falcons got one more chance to end it in regulation when Jeremy Payne got above the defense to head a ball in the box, but Keenan was right there to stop it.
In the first half, Messiah fired nine shots, but the Warriors were the only ones to fire an official shot on goal.
Messiah got the first quality chance in the 10th minute, as Brian Ramirez fired a shot off a free kick that skimmed off the crossbar and over the net. Just more than a minute later, Jeremy Payne got the ball inside the box and fired a shot that hit the crossbar again. Jack Thompson also got a shot off soon later that skipped wide of the goal after drawing inside the goal box.
After another attack by Messiah, this time in the 22nd minute, led to Keenan scooping up a Falcon cross, Keenan booted it to midfield to Lazo, who got the ball to junior Kevin Seymour (Mt. Airy, Md./South Carroll), who dribbled down the left sideline and fired a shot to the near post that was stopped.
Messiah had more chances soon after, with Jack Thompson firing a shot high after getting in the box and Josh Wood seeing one roll wide after getting position for a diving kick in the 26th minute.
Lycoming got its next chance off a free kick in the 38th minute, as freshman Bill Kerr (Bowie, Md./DeMatha Catholic) lifted a shot high into the night that was caught by the Messiah keeper just above the right crossbar. Less than a minute later, Klingler got a shot off from the 15, but the Messiah keeper caught it on a hop.
Keenan finished with seven saves to earn his seventh shutout of the season, while Messiah keeper Brandon West stopped two shots.