November 30, 2018

Tufts handles Rochester, reaches third national final in five years

Other Semifinal Recaps:  Men's Semifinal 1 Women's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2
Tufts' Joe Braun had a hand in all three Jumbo goals—heading home the opener and playing set-up man on the other two.

By Hannah Lichtenstein

Photos by Dave Hilbert, d3photography.com

Down goes another UAA team on the day. The second men’s semifinal out of Greensboro proved to be a highly entertaining affair that had a little bit of everything you could want on the big stage—the ol’ tale of a scrappy underdog in the midst of making history versus an impeccable goliath eager to add to their trophy case. Mixed in were tough defensive displays and a handful of goals (and almost goals).

The Tufts Jumbos continued their perfect run to the national final today in a 3-1 victory over Final Four newcomers, the Rochester Yellowjackets. Throughout the 90 minutes, Tufts’ energetic defense, potent counter attacks, and clinical finishing were too much to handle for Rochester. All-American forward Joe Braun notched four points in the win as the undefeated Jumbos put up 14 shots in total, including 8 on goal. Plenty of credit goes to Rochester though who never stopped fighting throughout the contest. The Yellowjackets logged a respectable seven shots and boast the honor of being the only team to crack the Jumbo defense so far in the 2018 tournament. The result means tomorrow will see a rematch of the 2016 final between Tufts and Calvin.

First Half

One word to describe the opening minutes of this match? Ow. You combine the magnitude of the game, windy conditions, and the fact that Tufts is arguably the most vertically gifted team in the country and perhaps it's unsurprising that we were in store for a very physical game from the first whistle. The Jumbos may be . . . well . . . jumbo, but they showed what they’ve demonstrated throughout the season—that there is a lot of finesse to their play. Tufts, one may expect from the team dubbed the favorites in this affair, settled into the game first and had great opportunities early on. In attack, they wielded a couple of deadly tactics to unlock the Rochester defense, namely link up play in the midfield to find through balls out on the flanks as well as knocking it directly up to target forward Joe Braun.

Though Tufts had the better of possession to start, that’s not to say that Rochester didn’t have any looks on goal. The Yellowjackets found themselves in prime field position more than a couple times in the first half. All-American Bryce Ikeda soared one just over the net off a free kick outside the box in the 13th minute. Ikeda also has a thrown in that would make Aaron Rodgers raise an eyebrow, a talent he used to create some dangerous activity in the Tufts’ six-yard box.

The Jumbos celebreate the game's opening goal.

However, it was the Jumbos who would strike first. Braun was proving to be a pain in the Yellowjackets’ side with a number of good chances in the first 25 minutes, one of which forced an impressive reflex save by Rochester keeper Patrick Conway. On the ensuing corner, 6’5” Braun made no mistake, rising up to head the ball and giving his team the lead in the 26th minute.

For the rest of the half, it was clear that a couple of interconnected themes were emerging: tough defense and counter attacks. Both teams found themselves running at their opponents with a lot of land in front of them, but time and again the sturdy Tufts backline stepped up to extinguish the threat. Tufts looked as if they were going to extend their lead as the first half came to a close, particularly after Braun got the ball at his feet and was 1-v-1 with Conway, but the Jumbos were unable to capitalize.

Unlike the first semifinal, both teams in this contest went deep into their bench in the first period. 12 total substitutions were made with Tufts being responsible for seven of those. It’s not exactly a common trend in these high stakes games but both coaches seemed to know that everyone’s tanks would be emptied by the end of this one.

Tufts went into the locker room at the break with the edge in shots (8-3), corners (5-0) and the 1-0 lead.

Second Half

Tufts' Zach Lane, scorer of the Jumbos' third goal, takes on his defender.

Coach Chris Apple’s side knew what they needed to do in the second—take care of the ball and find a way to put one in the back of the net with the never-give-up attitude that got them to where they were for the first time in program history. The Yellowjackets started the half off with energy and numbers forward, showing some spark and the signs of imposing themselves on the game.

Unfortunately for Rochester, just as it looked like momentum might swing in their favor, the Jumbos put another one in the back of the net in the 50th minute. Braun started the move after challenging a Rochester defender in the air. Instead of having a go himself, the forward cooly slid a pass across to his wide open teammate Gavin Tasker. It looked as if Tasker had taken just a second too long but his patience paid off as he struck it home past an outstretched Conway who really couldn’t have done much given the scenario.

With that the hill got a bit steeper for the Yellowjackets but they didn’t take their foot off the gas. Perhaps they committed too much when just 10 minutes later the Jumbos got their third. Again it started with Braun. The junior set up teammate Zack Lane who diced his defender with a cut and hit a low left-footed scorcher that found the bottom corner.

After a flurry of substitutions and fouls, Rochester would pull one back. An Ikeda corner found Aidan Miller on the back post who headed home his sixth of the season (not before getting kicked in the jaw of course) in the 72nd minute. Just three minutes later, it looked as if Tufts would firmly stamp out a comeback and equal the scoreline of the first match when Matt Jacobs got on the board. However, the goal was called back for offside . . ., but not offside on Jacobs, rather, offside on his teammate streaking in front of Conway and blocking the keeper’s view, according to the refs.

Joe Braun played big all game for the Jumbos.

The drama wouldn’t end there. In the 80th minute, that ghostly fourth goal seemed on its way to finally becoming reality for Tufts, that is, were it not for a last ditch goal line save from a Rochester center back.

A couple of final desperate attempts from the Yellowjackets proved unsuccessful as the game finished 3-1 in favor of the Jumbos. With the victory, 2nd-ranked Tufts (16-0-3) faces off against 4th-ranked Calvin (17-1-0) tomorrow in a rematch of the 2016 final. Calvin has yet to win a national championship while Tufts looks to add their third in five years.

As for Rochester, the team’s journey ends at the Final Four. It’s their best-ever finish in the tournament and one made possible by a memorable defeat over reigning champions Messiah who knocked them out in the Elite 8 last year.


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Other Semifinal Recaps:  Men's Semifinal 1 Women's Semifinal 1 | Semifinal 2
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