Champions Again: Messiah Claims 11th NCAA Division III Title
For both the 11th time in program history and first time in four years, the Messiah Falcons are National Champions once again.
The Falcons fell behind less than two minutes into the NCAA Division III National Championship on Saturday, but they scored twice in the first-half and put together an overall classic performance to capture the 11th title in program history, 2-1 over North Park. The title completed a 24-2 campaign for the Falcons that matched the program record for single-season wins, and it also made Messiah 11-for-11 in title game appearances.
Messiah's 11 National Championships is second in the NCAA only to the Division I UNC women's team, which has 21 titles.
North Park (20-2-2) finished as the National Runner-Up in their first-ever appearance at the Final Four.
The Vikings were aggressive from the opening whistle, and they grabbed early momentum with a stunning goal after just 1:12 of play. Their high pressure may have caught the Falcons off-guard, and they created an opportunity when Gustav Ericsson pushed through an open midfield and found Shatil Koury atop the box. He drew a quick double-team and couldn't shoot himself, so he laid a shot pass back to Ericsson for a shot from 22 yards out. Ericsson's one-timer was stuck hard and low, and it tucked inside the left post for a 1-0 lead.
And just like that, Messiah was on their heels for the second time in as many days at the Final Four. It was also just the second time Messiah fell behind in their 11 title game appearances, the other being against Lynchburg in 2010. Falcon fans surely remember the positive end to that game, and the good feelings came back around tonight when Messiah tied it at 1-1 less than four minutes later.
Messiah's equalizer came in transition when Danny Brandt sent Nick West down the left sideline and toward the corner. West raced on for possession and served a low cross to the middle of the box for Justin Brautigam's header. His redirect was nothing short of perfect as it bounced outside the reach of keeper Mathias Stulen and inside the far post.
For Brautigam, who scored the double-overtime winner on Friday, the goal was a third in as many games dating back to the Sectional Final against Rochester, and it was just his fourth all season.
Near Misses, Timely Milestone
After the teams traded early and unexpected goals, the game settled into a battle of possession. Messiah earned the better of the looks, too, including another serve to Brautigam in the eighth minute. This time is was Colby Thomas on the right side who delivered the cross, and Brautigam and Stulen came together as the six-yard line; Brautigam beat the keeper for a header, but Stulen got one hand on the shot for a brilliant save.
Nevertheless, Messiah collected four shots in less than four minutes after their goal, and their defense supported the effort by limiting the Vikings to just three shots in the first period.
As the half wore on fatigue began to set in for both teams, understandably so as each team played either into or through two overtimes on Friday night. Messiah's Brad McCarty staggered rest for his starters near the end of the period, with Ben Haines going to target for Kirby Robbins with still 15 minutes to play before halftime.
Haines, who had appeared in only 16 of the Falcons' 23 games prior to tonight, made the most of the opportunity with a milestone moment: his first career goal that proved to be the game-winner.
The highlight tally was especially unexpected as there was less than a minute to play before the break. Messiah's possession moved from the midfield to Josh Bender on the right sideline, and he pushed forward before sending a long serve to the middle of the box. Haines was there, but he came up short on a header, with the ball bouncing out the backside to Brit Haseltine. He quickly touched the ball back to Haines in the middle, and Haines caught a handful of Vikings watching the ball as he tucked a shot inside the left post.
The sudden score put the Falcons up 2-1, a welcome advantage considering both the early deficit and a chance to reset for the second-half.
Possession and Poise
Despite scoring twice in the first period, Messiah had more than a few uncharacteristic stretches of unsettled play, due surely to both their fatigue and the 4-4-3 pressure from North Park. In the second-half the Vikings opened with a 3-5-2, and Messiah responded with a stronghold on territory and possession. They outshot the Vikings 8-1 in the first 18 minutes of the period, and both Kirby Robbins (save) and Nick West (post) came especially close to increasing the Falcons' lead.
Midway through the period North Park went back to their 4-4-3, and they started to gain back some territory. They even created a few dangerous moments in the box, including Henrick Roseholt's shot in the 82' that went two yards wide of the left post.
In the final minutes the Falcons kept North Park from getting through the midfield, and soon the time ran out to seal Messiah's title win.
In the Box
Messiah attempted 10 shots in each half, and they put eight on frame. Messiah also attempted nine corners, even as they played each one short in favor keeping the ball at their feet. On the other side Messiah limited the Vikings to just two corners, a noteworthy accomplishment considering dangerous North Park's size and strength on resets.
Messiah's Nick West (offensive) and Cooper Robbins (defensive) were named the NCAA Tournament's Most Valuable Player honors, and teammates Kirby Robbins and Justin Brautigam also earned All-Tournament recognition. West finished the Tournament with three goals and three assists in six games, and Cooper Robbins helped Messiah come up big when needed with two 1-0 shutouts and five total one-goal games en route to the national title.
Also, with the result, Messiah has now outscored opponents 25-5 in 11 national title games. Of note, two of the Falcons' five goals this weekend were "first career tallies" by Adam Cole and Haines.
Messiah's six wins in the Tournament moved their all-time NCAA postseason record to 84-15-5 (.832).