Ephs play to 0-0 draw with archrival Amherst
AMHERST, MA--A rocket of a shot on goal…saved. A beautiful in-swinging corner kick…headed just wide. A cross from near the touchline…punched out by the keeper.
So it went in Saturday's clash of NESCAC titans, as timeless rivals Williams and Amherst slugged their way to a 0-0 draw at Amherst's Hitchcock Field. The tie moved Williams (ranked 17th in the latest NCAA DIII coaches' poll) to 6-0-2 (4-0-2 NESCAC) on the year, while Amherst (slotted in at 2nd in the same poll) had its seven-game winning streak snapped and is now 8-0-1 (4-0-1 NESCAC).
The first half was a taut and fast-paced affair, though both teams had plenty of opportunities to break the ice. The earliest chances belonged to the Ephs; in the seventh minute, Patrick Ebobisse's dogged pursuit of a long ball from Dan Lima forced Amherst goalie Thomas Bull to punch the ball right to the feet of forward Mohammed Rashid. Rashid one-timed a soft chip toward the open net, but it drifted just high.
The Ephs best chance came in the 23rd minute, when Matt Muralles collected a throw in deep in Lord Jeff territory and rifled a curling shot toward the back post that seemed ticketed for the side netting. But a leaping Bull did well to get a piece of the ball and deflect it wide for a corner.
Amherst gradually wrested control of the ball away from the Ephs as the half went on, and monopolized the chances as well. The Lord Jeffs' most dangerous attempt on goal came with just over three minutes left in the period, when Julien Aoyama dribbled through four Eph defenders with remarkable skill and fired a shot from about 12 yards out. Fortunately for the Ephs, the shot rocketed straight into the arms of keeper Than Finan, who did well not to allow a rebound.
The second half proved to be more of the same, with the Lord Jeffs once again controlling the run of play. In the 47th minute, a Jae Heo cross found Spencer Noon, whose header beat Finan but bounced wide of the net. The play was a harbinger of things to come, as Noon proved to be a force in the second half and sent a seemingly endless stream of crosses across the Williams goalmouth in the second half. Of those crosses, the one that came closest to putting Amherst on the board came in the 52ndminute, when a sliding Peter Christman accidentally deflected the low cross on net and forced Finan to make a diving stop as part of a performance that was arguably his best of the season to date and gave the Ephs their fourth straight shutout.
"I thought Than Finan played extremely well," said Coach Mike Russo on his goalie's efforts. "This is probably the most potent team offensively we'll face, but we've really tightened things up defensively."
The Ephs, too, did not want for chances in the half despite being limited at times to only brief forays across midfield. Their most serious flurry of offense came when Mohammed Rashid, who consistently wreaked havoc for the Lord Jeffs with his speed and vision, had a shot blocked by an Amherst fullback. The rebound fell to Michael Madding, who slid a pass across for an oncoming Muralles. Muralles' shot was low, hard, and on-target, but Bull, who has allowed just one goal all year, dove to make another sterling save on a day that seemed littered with them.
Both overtimes proved to be anxious and mistake-filled affairs, thanks in part to an arriving rain that arrived near the end of regulation and only grew steadier as the period went on. Neither side was able to generate much offense, and the final whistle punctuated a fairly anticlimactic ending to such an important and hard-fought match.
Overall, Amherst held advantages in shots (25-9), shots on goal (6-2) and corner kicks (7-5). But the Lord Jeffs' high-octane offense, which racked up 30 goals while winning its first eight games of the year, could not find the breakthrough it needed, leaving the Ephs with a satisfactory—if not wholly satisfying—result.
"They [Amherst] are a very strong, senior-laden team that plays what I call 'power football.' They're extremely big and physical, and they play with skill too. I never like tying, but given the circumstances, I was very pleased with the overall effort and with the tremendous courage and commitment shown [by the Ephs]," opined Russo.
The Ephs now travel to Maine, where they will face Bowdoin on Sunday in more NESCAC action. Amherst remains at home and will square off against Trinity on Tuesday afternoon. Game times are 1:30 and 2:30 p.m., respectively.
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