Messiah Clinches Championship With 4-1 Win Over Crusaders
Grantham, PA - The Commonwealth Championship for men's soccer featured a rematch of Messiah's 1-0, thrilling victory over Alvernia University just two weeks ago. In that game, Messiah's Danny Thompson scored the game winner in the 82nd minute.
On Saturday, with the Commonwealth title on the line, Thompson again notched the game winner- this time to give Messiah a 2-1 lead midway through the first half in an eventual 4-1 victory over the Crusaders. The win gave Messiah (18-0-1) their fifth straight Commmonwealth Conference Championship.
Fittingly, Danny Thompson was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
"Danny has come a long way since he as a freshman," said Messiah head coach Brad McCarty about the senior from Hudson, Ohio. "He's complete- he has the ability to possess the ball, and also receive it with guys on his back. He can turn quick with the ball, and can put it in (the goal) from long distance. He's a dangerous player."
The Crusaders were reminded of Thompson's "danger" factor in the 24th minute. With the game tied at 1-1, Thompson took a feed from teammate, and younger brother, Jack Thompson as he moved right of mid field about 25 yards out from the goal. His strike sent the ball on a line to the top corner of the far post, sending the 2,000-plus fans into an uproar.
Thompson's goal came just over four minutes after Alvernia (15-4-1) tied the score off a set piece from just outside the 18 yard line. The free kick was awarded after the official ruled a handball on Messiah keeper Jake Berry; Berry extended outside of the box while on the ground scrambling for possession when he was called for the violation.
The Crusaders' David McEwen, who scored the team's overtime winner in the semifinals over Lebanon Valley, put the shot into the right corner for the tie.
Before McEwen's goal, the Messiah faithful were still buzzing from the game's first goal- a laser off the foot of Messiah senior Derek Black. Black, who scored the third and final goal againt Elizabethtown in the Falcons' 3-0 semifinal win, took the ball left of the midfield before sending his strike across the box and to the upper, right-hand corner of the goal. The electric shot eluded the long arms of Alvernia's Ben Diller. The score, assisted by senior Sam Woodworth, gave the Falcons a 1-0 just 2:51 into the game.
"Alvernia made it hard on us early," said McCarty, who is three-for-three on Commonwealth Championships in his three seasons leading the Falcons. "They gave us hard pressure, and sometimes that exposes a team's back line. We were able to find some of those chances."
Indeed, it would be less than 10 minutes after Thompson's goal that the Falcons would strike again. This time, Messiah senior Trevor Lee would feed freshman teammate Jeremy Payne on the right wing as he was advancing towards the corner. Payne chipped the ball from 25 yards out to the backside of the goal, with the shot sailing over the head of Diller and into the net.
Payne's score gave the Falcons a 3-1 lead they would take into halftime. The shots for each team in the first frame were almost balanced, with Messiah taking 10 shots to the Crusaders' eight. Both Diller and Berry made two saves in the first half.
"Defensively, we knew it was going to be a battle," said Berry, who has allowed only nine goals across 19 games this year for the Falcons. "(Alvernia) came out strong, but we continued to work hard. I have to go against the (Messiah) guys every day in practice, so I'm never surprised when we put some goals up on the board."
Messiah's final goal would be scored by freshman Mike Kovach, who placed a cross off his head past Diller in the 43rd minute of the game. The cross was from sophomore Aaron Myers, leading to one of 12 shots for the Falcons in the second half.
Messiah would outshoot Alvernia 12 to one in the second half; 22 to nine for the game. Though the Crusaders' would continue to search for offensive momentum, the Messiah defense refuse to give any legitimate scoring chances to their opponent.
"Earlier this week, we talked about giving ourselves a chance to play on Saturday," said McCarty, whose team will enter the NCAA Division III National Tournament as three-time defending NCAA Champions. "Today, we wanted to play smart and extend our season."
Messiah will look to extend it's season one game at a time, as they will look forward to playing in the first round of the NCAA's next weekend.
"The NCAA is a tough road, but we're excited for it," added Danny Thompson. "Beating a good team like Alvernia is a good test for us. There are no easy games at this point in the season- everything we achieve we'll have to earn."
The brackets for the Division III Tournament will be released at the beginning of the upcoming week.