WILLIAMSTOWN, MA--A magnificent volley from Peter Christman midway through the second half gave the Williams men's soccer team all the offense it would need to defeat Tufts in a critical NESCAC showdown on Saturday. With the win, the Ephs moved to 8-0-2 (6-0-2 NESCAC) and clinched the right to host a conference playoff game on October 27. Meanwhile, the Jumbos fell to 6-2-3 (3-2-3 NESCAC) with the loss.
The opening kick went to Tufts, which promptly strung together a set of about 10 passes while journeying deep into Williams territory. While that particular attack came to naught, it set the tone for a period that was to be by and large controlled by the aggressive Jumbos. Their early pressure nearly yielded a goal in the 6th minute, when an attempted clearance from Chris Conder was intercepted by Tufts' Scott Blumenthal. Blumenthal dribbled around an Ephs' fullback and sent a cross towards the far post on the ground that narrowly eluded a diving Than Finan. But Finan refused to give up on the play and recovered just in time to make an excellent diving save on Maxime Hoppenot's left-footed shot.
Meanwhile, some unusually sloppy passing kept the Ephs from creating any generating any sustained offensive bursts. This general ineffectiveness prompted Coach Mike Russo to make a number of substitutions throughout the half, a choice that nearly paid off in the 37th minute when Nathan Miller, one of those subs, corralled a loose ball and unleashed a left-footed laser beam from about 30 yards out that easily beat Jumbo goalie Wyatt Zeller but clanged hard off the crossbar.
That shot was the highlight of a sterling effort from Miller, who earned the praise of Russo afterward.
"Nathan Miller was the man of the match to me," said Russo. "He came on as a substitute in the first half and started the second, and his energy and work ethic gave us a real boost."
The near-bolt from the blue seemed to act as a wakeup call for the Jumbos, who promptly stampeded down the field and renewed their dominance in the half's final few minutes. In the 43rd minute, the breakthrough they were looking for nearly arrived when Franco Silva's cross found the dangerous Gus Santos. Santos' volley froze Finan but went just wide of the near post, and the scoreless tie was preserved.
"They're an excellent team, and the first half was definitely theirs," said Russo of the Ephs' opponents. "We said at halftime, 'We need to be better.' And we took it to them."
At first, though, it seemed as though the second half would prove to be a rerun of the first when Santos ran deep up the left flank seconds after the opening whistle and sent a clean ball through for Hoppenot, who somehow could not get the ball on a wide-open net. Moments later, another Santos cross found the chest of Williams captain Matt Ratajczak and meandered on goal, but once more, a diving Finan proved up to the task.
Once this early flurry ebbed, however, the run of play abruptly tilted in the Ephs' favor. And while Williams was unable to generate the same quantity of quality chances that Tufts had, they were able to create something their opponent couldn't: a goal.
The play began in the right corner of Tufts territory, where Michael Madding won a loose ball and played a simple pass to Zach Grady. Grady took one touch, looked up, and sent a brilliant ball toward the back post, where an unmarked Christman ran onto the cross and blasted it past Zeller with just under 25 minutes to go in the game. The goal was Christman's first, and it made him the 10th Eph to score a goal this season.
Although the Jumbos refused to be daunted and pressed forward with a sense of desperation for the remainder of the half, it was all to no avail. Their best chance at equalizing came in the 77th minute, when the familiar combination of Santos-to-Hoppenot produced a shot that drifted in the air directly above the goal line before Finan, who had been drawn out of the net prior to Santos' run, retreated to make a desperate and game-saving stop.
Both teams will play nonconference matchups at their respective homes next. The Jumbos will return to Medford to face MIT on Wednesday, while the Ephs take on a tough Babson team at Cole Field tomorrow and hope to continue what has been a dream season thus far.
"We're delighted to be where we are right now," concluded Russo.