Team Heads To Post Season Following Soft, Sweet Win Over E'Town
Grantham, PA — Late Saturday night, Messiah head men’s soccer coach Dave Brandt was asked if he liked marshmallows.
“That’s a loaded question,” he said.
Ninth-ranked Messiah used a dominating possession game to hand MAC Commonwealth rival Elizabethtown College a 3-0 defeat at Shoemaker Field Saturday, ending the Blue Jays’ season while settling into the conference’s number two seed for the upcoming playoffs.
It was Messiah’s sixth straight regular-season win over Elizabethtown, pushing its overall record to 25-17-2 in what many claim as the absolute best rivalry in all of NCAA Division III soccer.
The final regular-season game between the institutions has also been dubbed the Marshmallow Cup game — a moniker needing no explanation. That tradition lived on Saturday night despite school officials’ best attempts to confiscate as many white puffs as possible.
With every Messiah score leading to a launch of corn syrup confection on the celebrating players, it was clear that old customs die hard.
“It’s important for us to try to approach every game the same, so we try to do that,” Brandt said. “It’s obviously a bit harder for our guys with this one because of the big crowd, the intensity and some of the nerves, but that’s our attempt anyway.”
Ranked ninth in the latest NSCAA/Adidas Top 25 Poll, nerves did not appear to be an issue for Brandt’s team, despite the 3,000-plus fans spilling over the stadium confinements. An uncharacteristically down Elizabethtown (7-9-2, 2-4) team did its best to keep pace, but the Falcons’ surging momentum quickly overmatched the visitors. An eventual 18-4 advantage in total shots and 9-1 disparity in corner kicks led to the game-winner just 12 minutes in, as sophomore Nick Thompson collected a corner-kick serve from senior Josh Sanders with 12:04 elapsed. Amid crashing bodies in front of the Blue Jays’ cage, Thompson fired a low shot to the far post that caromed off an Elizabethtown defender, ricocheting into the upper netting, near post, for a 1-0 lead.
Thompson then led a procession of teammates down the sideline to a spot directly in front of the Messiah student section, where they were pummeled with the aforementioned sweets.
“We’ve been playing well,” Brandt said. “For us to get that first goal relieved the pressure a bit, but you have to continue playing.”
Messiah (14-2-2, 5-1) maintained presssure to the Blue Jays’ back line and was rewarded again just over 16 minutes later, this time with Thompson heading a beautiful serve into the net from younger brother Danny at the 28:33 mark. Working down the right flank, Danny Thompson booted a curving ball that seemed destined for the middle of Nick’s noggin. The older of the siblings then launched himself skyward to snare the ball at its highest point, redirecting a violent header that bowed the back netting upon impact.
Cue marshmallow celebration number two.
“That was a really good goal,” Brandt conceded. “Danny sent a great ball and I thought that Nick really squared up when he went to get it.”
The Falcons kept their 2-0 lead through halftime and the beginning of the second period, as the game’s physicality intensified. A total 28 fouls were called in addition to four yellow cards being issued to Elizabethtown, numbers to be expected in such a heated rivalry.
Messiah finished the scoring at the 61:54 mark, as Danny Thompson made a spectacular run down the right side of the midfield. Advancing the ball down the right wing, sophomore Sean Cunningham slotted a low, hard ball to the streaking Thompson, an assist that Danny would slide kick around Blue Jays’ keeper Jeff Mullen and into the low corner in providing the final margin of difference.
“This was a big week for us because we won three games,” Brandt said. “I thought we played well at times tonight, but we didn’t sustain it for 90 minutes. It was our third game in five days, so that may have played a role.”
With its latest win, Messiah pushed its winning streak to five — all coming in shut-out fashion.
Saturday’s contest was an aberration of sorts for the storied Messiah-E’Town rivalry, as 33 of the 45 total games played between the teams have been decided by one goal or less. Saturday also marked the first time an Elizabethtown side entered this contest with a losing record, a stat materialized in the Blue Jays’ absence from next week’s post-season competition.
Messiah, meanwhile, will host third-seed Lycoming College (12-5-1, 4-2) in one of the MAC Commonwealth Semifinals, as Lycoming’s 2-1 loss at Widener University Saturday prevented a three-way tie at the top of the league standings — a scenario that would have given Messiah the tournament’s top seed through a lengthy tie-breaking procedure.
Instead, Lebanon Valley College (9-9, 5-1) will enter as the tournament’s top seed by virtue of its 2-1 win over Messiah back on Oct. 15. The Dutchmen will host Widener (8-7-3, 3-3) in the other semifinal, as the Pride’s win over Lycoming secured its place in the post-season.
“It’s the same thing for us, whether it’s E’Town, the post season or the regular season,” Brandt said. “For us, it’s important to be focused on doing what we do well. That’s the next game, really. We’ll start preparing for Lycoming and we’ll look to continue to do things well.”
Messiah will host Lyco at Shoemaker Field Tuesday night. Game time is set for 7 p.m.