Men's Soccer Season Ends in NCAA Sectionals
Messiah became the first team to put a chink in the armor of the third-ranked Red Hawks Saturday afternoon, knocking off the previously unbeaten MSU by a 1-0 score in double-overtime to advance to Sunday’s NCAA Sectional Final against host Christopher Newport University.
Freshman Danny Thompson scored the golden goal 4:42 into the second extra session, giving Montclair State reason to deplore the surname: Last season, older brother Nick scored the Falcons’ lone goal to oust the Red Hawks in the sectional final at Messiah’s Shoemaker Field. That goal came in the 71st minute of regulation. Saturday, the younger sibling’s put-away was even more dramatic.
Working the middle of the field, Thompson received a straight ball from sophomore Sean Cunningham. He then rolled his defender, took a touch and hammered a shot to the near post from eight yards out, beating Montclair goalkeeper Nick Mele (Delran, NJ / Delran) to the near post.
Entering the game with a 21-0 record on the year, Montclair State had its share of chances to remain unblemished. A 5-3 Messiah advantage in first-half shots ballooned to an 8-4 disparity in the second 45 minutes, with both teams getting reasonable opportunities on goal.
Messiah’s best chance to erase the scoreless tie came with 22:33 left in regulation, as freshman Derek Black sent a cross into the box. Danny Thompson was able to win the ball out of the air and send a violent header toward an open cage, but his effort sailed just wide to preserve the scoreless tie.
Perhaps the most heart-stopping moment for either team came in the first overtime period, as a breakaway opportunity for the Red Hawks nearly ended Messiah’s season just three minutes in. Senior JD Binger, junior Trey Overholt and a Red Hawks midfielder leapt simultaneously in an effort to win a ball out of the air at midfield, only for the sphere to land between the three and at the feet of Montclair State forward Sean Pauls (Denville, NJ / Morris Knolls). Given the gift of a loose ball, Pauls began dribbling straight for the Messiah goal — with only junior goalkeeper Jared Clugston to beat.
Fortunately for Messiah, Cunningham held his position on the opposite side of the field, allowing an angle to track down Pauls before he could get a clean shot away. With Cunningham arriving just in time to apply pressure, Pauls got off a good — but not spectacular — low, hard shot.
The loss ended what could arguable be called the finest season in Montclair State history. The Red Hawks finished the season with a school-record for victories and won their third consecutive New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship as they went unbeaten in the league during the regular-season (9-0) while adding two more wins in the tournament.
The Red Hawks also reached a No. 3 ranking by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA), its highest ranking in school history and over the last three years Montclair has posted a 60-5-1 mark with two of those losses coming to Messiah. The appearance in the NCAA Tournament was the Red Hawks’ third straight, something it had not done since 1990-1992. It was MSU’s third consecutive trip to the “Sweet 16” of the tournament.