AMHERST, MA—Patrick Ebobisse's goal on Saturday as the No. 9 Williams men's soccer team claimed an NCAA sectional semifinal over No. 17 Brandeis by a 1-0 count. The Ephs improved to 16-1-3 with the win, while the Judges fell to 18-3-1 in their first loss of the season to a non-conference opponent.
Neither team managed to create any sustained offense during the entirety of the first half, as a stochastic series of seemingly endless throw-ins for both teams kept either side from developing any real sort of rhythm. The Ephs best chance to get on the scoreboard came early, when Patrick Ebobisse controlled one of those throws for Michael Madding on the right side and managed to turn into the middle of the field, where he took about four touches before sending a curling left-footed shot towards the back post. But Brandeis keeper Blake Minchoff saw it all the way and managed to steer it away for a corner with a well-timed leap.
The Judges had chances of their own, particularly in the 21st minute, when Tyler Savonen sprang the dangerous Sam Ocel free on the edge of the Williams box with a nice pass that split the Eph defenders. The play drew Williams goalie Than Finan off his line to cut down the angle, but Ocel fired high over the net to keep the game scoreless.
As has so often been the case this year, the Ephs rallied immediately after halftime and briefly assumed control of the run of play. The ongoing attack began in the second minute, when Mohammed Rashid collected a loose ball and made a strong diagonal run from the right side of midfield straight at the Judges' goal. Rashid drew a pair of defenders to him before slotting a pass out left for Ebobisse. But Ebobisse's first touch took him too far wide, and his shot careened harmlessly into the side netting for a goal kick.
Williams finally got on the board in the 64th minute, courtesy of the Rashid-Ebobisse combination that clicked twice in last week's first-round win over Thomas and has developed into one of the Ephs' most potent offensive weapons. The play began when Rashid ran down a long ball deep down the left flank and made a move around a defender before sending a low cross towards the six-yard-box. Ebobisse timed his run perfectly, beat his man and deftly popped the ball past Minchoff for the game's first goal.
"In the first half we did not play so well," commented Williams coach Mike Russo. "But in the second half we raised out intensity level, and that was the difference in the game. Ebobisse was very good today, the man of the match."
But as befits a team of their caliber, the Judges regrouped after conceding their first tally in nearly three weeks and quickly assumed control of the game for the remainder of the period. Yet although the Judges managed to apply high pressure in Eph territory for long stretches of time, they failed they struggled to seriously test Finan. Their best opportunity to do so came with just under ten minutes remaining, when Savnonen's chip found Lee Russo well inside the box with a step on his man and a clear look at the net. Russo failed to corral the ball cleanly, though, and Finan swooped in to claim it.
"They're a very good possession team," said Russo on Brandeis. "But I thought we had the edge in athleticism."
A sense of urgent desperation crept into the Brandeis attack in the game's final moment, but a long string of corner kicks managed to produce little more than more corner kicks. The Judges' final chance came with 17 seconds remaining, when a sloppy Williams handball gave Brandeis a direct free kick from about 25 yards out. Russo's effort was on-target, but Finan handled it cleanly to secure the Ephs' victory.
It has been a remarkable ride for the Ephs, who failed to qualify for the tournament last year altogther but have now reached the Elite 8 with three straight one-goal wins.
When asked what he would have said his team's chances of getting this far were at the beginning of the year, the Ephs' coach was frank.
"A very slight chance," chuckled Russo. "Not in my wildest dreams, really. But the leadership of our quarter [of seniors] has inspired us...we're delighted to be here."
Williams now awaits the winner of this afternoon's contest between Amherst and Swarthmore. The winner will face the Ephs tomorrow in Amherst, with a trip to San Antonio for the Final Four at stake. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:30 p.m.