WILLIAMSTOWN, MA--After 90 minutes of tough, draining, and scoreless play, Patrick Ebobisse was anything but tired. Instead, the acting captain came back from the overtime coin toss as fired up as anybody on either squad.
"This is our game! This is our house!" shouted a determined Ebobisse, who was so excited he could scarcely keep his feet on the ground.
Moments later, the man they call "Ebo" backed up his talk in a big way.
Ebobisse's first goal of the year lifted Williams men's soccer to a dramatic overtime victory over the Utica Pioneers in non-conference action at Cole Field on Saturday. The win gave Williams, ranked 19th in the latest NCAA DIII rankings, its second straight win for an overall record of 6-0-1 (4-0-1 NESCAC). Uitca lost its fifth straight and fell to 4-6 (0-2 Empire 8).
Shortly after the first overtime period began, Chris Seitz made a strong run up the right flank before crossing on the ground to Ebobisse. Ebobisse's initial shot was blocked, but the ball took a fortuitous bounce into open space on the edge of the six-yard box. Ebobisse reached the ball first and blasted into the back of the net, touching off a wild goal celebration near the bleachers for the triumphant home team, whom Russo felt throroughly deserved the victory.
"It was a total team effort," said Russo, "and the effort was fantastic."
Although the Ephs had the better of play throughout the first half, both teams had their chances to break the scoreless draw. A strong push right from the opening whistle culminated in a pair of Ebobisse corners, the second of which found the head of Noah Grumman on the far post and seemed destined to give Williams an early lead. But the ball was cleared off the line by a Pioneer defender, and the scoresheet stayed clean.
About 10 minutes later, Williams had another promising-looking chance when a clever give-and-go between Chris Conder and Ebobisse led to a Conder cross into the box for an oncoming User Kushaina. Kushaina's bouncing volley beat Utica keeper Anthony Caruso, but for the second time of the half, a diving header from a Utica fullback kept the ball out.
The Pioneers were not without their share of chances, thanks largely to strong work up top by striker Shane Ruffing, who used his speed and 6'6" frame to full advantage in making a number of cutting runs to the corner flag. Utica's best chance came in the 27th minute, when Daniel Garcia got free from about 25 yards out and rifled a low shot toward the far post, forcing Williams netminder Than Finan to move to his right and make a solid save. Finan made three saves in the first half before being replaced by Peter Morrell to start the second period.
"We're happy with both goalkeepers—they've both worked very hard in practice, and they both deserve the chance to play," said Russo when asked about the goaltender switch.
The second half was more of the same, as both teams knocked on the door but failed to capitalize on their chances. Utica had the first opportunity almost immediately after the half began, as Jeff Cupka got loose for a mini-breakaway and appeared to have a clear path to the net. But a diving Chris Conder kept his shot from ever reaching Morrell, who then returned the favor by punching away the ensuing corner. Morrell notched two saves in his half of work as he and Finan combined to help the Ephs notch their third straight shutout.
By far the best chance for either team came in the 58th minute, when the Ephs came within inches of breaking the stalemate. A long Chris Seitz cross towards the deep back post for Mohammed Rashid drew Caruso out of the net and left him out of position when Rashid sent a brilliant header back for Ebobisse. But Caruso recovered magnificently and managed to get a piece of Ebobisse's header, which then bounced off the post before Caruso, who made six saves overall, finally managed to smother it. In the end, though, Ebobisse's stirring effort made it all moot.
Williams now looks ahead to next Saturday's NESCAC showdown against archrival Amherst College, which currently holds the 2nd spot in the national rankings. Manwhile, Utica will return home to face Clarkson University in another nonconference matchup.
"We're looking forward to the challenge. Amherst is a very, very strong team," said Russo on what looms as the biggest game of the year so far for Williams, before adding:
"We can't wait to go down there."