WILLIAMSTOWN, MA -- Bodies and noise swarmed all around him, but Michael Madding heard and saw none of the commotion. Instead, he was focused only on the ball that was falling, falling, falling towards the ground, towards his feet, towards a reckoning with fate.
An interminable half-second passed. Madding whipped his leg forward.
Another half-second passed. Then, bedlam.
Madding's overtime goal capped a stirring comeback that spurred the No. 9 Williams men's soccer team past the No. 13 St. Lawrence Saints by a 2-1 count and into the Round of 16 of this year's NCAA tournament. The Ephs picked up their 15th win of the year and improved to 15-1-3, while the Saints finished their season with a 14-3-3 spread.
"I'm overwhelmed and just ecstatic," said Williams coach Mike Russo after the game. "The intensity level was raised immensely today. It's a testament to our belief."
After needing almost all of regulation to find an equalizer against Eastern Connecticut on Saturday, the Saints came out flying and scored before the Ephs could complete a pass. St. Lawrence took the opening kick and swung the ball around their back line before Jermiah Bunton sent a beautiful though ball for Jamal Samaroo, who made a textbook diagonal run to sneak in behind the Eph backline and meet the pass in stride. Samaroo took three quick touches and then fired a low laser beam that froze Eph keeper Than Finan and skimmed the right post before sailing into the back of the net with just 29 seconds elapsed.
As they have so frequently throughout the season when falling behind early, the Ephs responded with a bout of strong play and managed a slight edge in possession for most of the half. Indeed, they nearly tied it in the 12th minute when User Kushaina used his speed to beat two Saints down the left wing and crossed into the box for Madding. Madding deftly controlled the ball with his chest before using the laces of his right boot to direct a floating shot towards the crossbar. The shot seemed to catch Saint goalie Nate Goss-Woliner by surprise, but he recovered, backpedaled, leapt, and managed to tip the ball over the bar for a corner.
"Even though they scored early, I thought we had the resolve and the will to carry on," said Russo on his team's recovery.
That was the last shot on goal either team would record for the next 50 minutes or so, as the two teams settled into a staccato rhythm of up-tempo play and uncompleted passes that spanned the end of the first half and the beginning of the second.
The Ephs broke that string in the 63rd minute when Andres Burbank-Crump found Matt Ratajczak free in the box with a free kick. Ratajczak somehow managed to turn and fire a shot on net, but Goss-Woliner read the play well and cut down the angle to make a tough save.
Eight minutes later, the Saints came agonizingly close to doubling their advantage. Brian Gilloran laid a simple pass for Shaka Pilgrim, who crossed into the 18 for Samaroo. Samaroo's shot was a well-placed roller that eluded a diving Finan and bounced tantalizingly off the post and into the six yard box. Gilloran could not strike the rebound cleanly, and the play ended with a goal kick.
The Saints would come to regret the missed opportunity when, with just under ten minutes to play, the Ephs created an energizing equalizer. Mohammed Rashid got things started with a header down to Matt Kastner, who then gave it back to streaking Rashid on the left flank. Rashid neatly slotted the ball with his right foot past an oncoming Goss-Woliner and just inside the far post. The goal was Rashid's second in as many games, and it touched off a jubilant celebration on both sidelines.
To their credit, the Saints responded well and carried play for the remainder of regulation but generated few scoring chances, as neither side seemed to want to risk pushing too many players forward as the clock wound down. Fatigue may have also played a role, particularly for a St. Lawrence side that was only 24 hours removed from a draining double-OT win over Eastern Connecticut.
The same could be said for much of the first overtime period—that is, until Ratajczak took matters into his own hands. After corralling a Saint clear near midfield, Ratajczak chose not to dish off as he customarily does and instead began a rush up the field that took him past multiple Saints defenders as he picked up momentum. As he neared the touchline, Ratajczak sent an arcing cross towards the net that Goss-Woliner punched straight at Madding, who received the ball squarely with his chest and launched a rising volley that hit the bar and bounced into the goal with 41 seconds remaining in the period. Madding ripped off his shirt and raised his arms in celebration as Williams players and fans stormed the field to celebrate the stunning finish.
The Ephs will now play either Brandeis or Vassar in the Round of 16. The NCAA will announce the location of the matchup on Monday. For now, though, the Ephs will savor their win.
"It was an outstanding team effort against an outstanding team," summed up Russo.