Raul Serrano, a 2013 McKinney Boyd High School graduate, headed to Messiah College in central Pennsylvania this fall to do two things – go to school and play soccer. So far so good on both counts as the men’s Messiah team took home the NCAA Division III championship this past weekend in San Antonio. The press release follows…
San Antonio – The Messiah College men’s soccer earned its 10th NCAA Division III National Championship by way of a double-overtime golden goal from Jeremy Payne. Payne put through the game-winner off a low serve from Joshua Wood in the 104th of play to send Messiah to the 2-1 win over Rutgers-Camden.
The win for the Falcons secured not only their 10th title in 10 National Final appearances, but also their second-straight and fifth in the past six seasons. Saturday’s final was their second over that span that finished in overtime (2010) with one other decided in penalty kicks (2008).
Payne’s game-winner came on the Falcons’ eighth shot of the overtime periods, and their 32nd shot of the game. Mike Kovachplayed the role of unsung hero on the play as he saved possession near the right corner flag and eluded his defender on the sideline before slotting to Wood in the box. Wood turned strongly to the right end line and sharply crossed to the middle where Payne’s hard one-touch went past keeper Mike Randall.
The score set off a thunderous celebration of not only the Falcons, but also their fans and alumni who were well represented on the sidelines.
“Right before the second overtime we talked as a team about needing to get end line to cross for a front foot finish,” McCarty said. “Josh has played well this weekend but has also struggled at times to finish some plays. He’s been great for us all season and it was a great play he made tonight.”
The loss for Rutgers (23-1-2) was their first of the season as they were in appearing in the National Final for the first time in program history.
“The final game was a battle, the way its supposed to be,” Rutgers head coach Tim Oswald said after the match. “We were playing for one goal the entire season and tonight we fell short of that goal, but I’m proud of our guys for the work we put in.”
The match may well be considered an instant classic, as it pitted Messiah’s possession-oriented approach against Rutgers’ gritty and feisty style. The match-up certainly lived up to the billing in that regard, as the Falcons battled through the constant scrapping and clawing of the Scarlet Raptors.
“We knew they would play with a lot of grit and fight. It’s a critical part of their game and we needed to handle it,” McCarty said of the Raptors’ aggressive posture. “We asked our players to be discipline offensively, defensively, and emotionally.”
McCarty’s preparation of the Falcons certainly showed at the start as Messiah settled in quickly and took a 1-0 lead in just the 12th minute of action. Brian Ramirez, who also scored early for the Falcons in Friday’s win over Williams, tallied in almost the same fashion as he did just 24 hours prior. Played square from Payne on the left side, his shot moving right deflected off a defender bounded high into the air and toward the goal. On Friday, the shot dipped under the crossbar as Williams’ keeper backpedaled to make a play; against Rutgers, his shot darted inside the right post to give Messiah the early lead.
“Whenever I have chances to shoot, I always think about putting it on frame,” Ramirez said. “You just have take chances as they come to you, and (my shot) was the product of unselfish play by our team to set me up.”
The goal marked the fifth time in six NCAA Tournament games this season that the Falcons took a 1-0 lead before even 12 minutes had expired off the clock.
“I think Rutgers came out a little tentative to start the game, and we had the ball in their end a ton,” McCarty said. “We created really good opportunities early, but later in the half I thought the tide changed a bit.”
True to McCarty’s point, the Falcons did create a number of opportunities in the first-half beyond even Ramirez’s goal. They took 12 total shots in the half—a number they’d match in the second-half—and were successful at shutting down Mike Ryan and the Raptors’ attack.
With about 15 minutes to play before the break, however, Rutgers did settle in. In the 33rd minute Ryan found a tremendous opportunity to even the game after Messiah turned the ball over in the Raptors’ side of midfield. Rutgers quickly played to the right side where Ryan pushed behind Matt Kyne and over the right side of the box before firing a shot Brandon West. West, who perhaps ran of his line too quickly on the angle to slide at Ryan, didn’t get a piece of Ryan’s shot as it sailed wide of the near post.
In the 44th minute Mike Grotti also came close to putting one past West after he slipped inside the right end line. But West collected a save this time near the post and the teams eventually entered the half with Messiah leading 1-0.
Payne nearly put Messiah up 2-0 at the start of the second-half with a hard-struck shot from the left corner of the 18, but Mike Randall grabbed one of his seven saves on the near post. Through much of the second-half Messiah controlled territory despite Rutgers’ scrappy—and sometimes discourteous—attempts to claw back into the game. After receiving three yellow cards in the first-half, Rutgers continued to even jaw at the Falcons and the center official as the time wore on.
“We play in a feisty, gritty conference,” Oswald said, speaking on his team’s emotional play. “We play with passion, spirit, and pride. There wasn’t a red card tonight, and I know that sometimes we do get testy with the officials. But that’s the character of our league and our program. We do our best to reign it in and push forward, and tonight our guys did the job the need to chase the game.”
The Raptors did chase the game with full effort, and created more than one chance in the box on direct kicks from near—or even past—midfield. With less than 12 minutes to play they finally found the equalizer after Messiah’s Carter Robbins made a misplay on a ball chipped towards the Falcons’ 18-yard line.
Robbins misjudged and then misplayed the ball, allowing it slip through into the box and to the feet of a crashing Taylor McGrory. West sprinted off his line as McGrory went one-on-one to the net, and he quickly pushed past West to the left before sending a strike into the goal to knot the game at 1-1.
The goal was just his second of the season, and second in two days following his late-game equalizer against Loras in Friday’s match.
“I saw the miss on the ball and just ran through it,” McGrory said. “I took it and put it away, and sort of blacked out after seeing it go in.”
“It was disappointing to see (Carter) make that mistake in the back,” McCarty said of the play. “He’s such a good defender, and such a good player on the ball. Our backs haven’t made too many mistakes this season, and our attacking players picked them up tonight.”
The goal turned momentum sharply to Rutgers, but Messiah quickly regained composure and almost retook the lead off the foot ofJack Thompson in the 83rd minute. His shot from the left side, just 10 yards off the post, went a yard wide of the post, however, keeping the game tied.
Messiah had three chances on direct kicks from the right side in the final minutes, but each time the Raptors’ defense held strong to help the game move to overtime.
In the overtime sessions, Messiah took another eight shots—four of which went on frame.
“I thought that we played really well in the overtime periods,” McCarty said, commenting on Messiah’s spirited play at the end. “We put a number of shots on frame, almost as many as we did in the first- and second-halves.”
The Falcons’ took two shots in front of the Raptors’ goal at the end of the first extra session, one each from Wood and Ramirez, but both were blocked on the six-yard line. The game quickly moved to the second overtime where Payne nearly ended the game in the 102nd minute with a header that went just over the crossbar.
It wouldn’t be too much longer, however, that Payne did end the game in dramatic fashion off the serve from Wood. The combination for the goal seemed appropriate, too, as the duo led the Falcons in points all season.
“It was unreal,” Payne said of the game-winning tally. “I remember watching Messiah before I was here as a player, and seeing Geoff Pezon win (the 2010 National Championship) with an overtime goal. I can remember thinking how that would feel. It’s awesome.”
The overtime goal moved Messiah to 11-4 in NCAA Tournament games that advanced to overtime (penalty kick games not included).
“This team is pretty identical to last year’s team,” McCarty said, commenting on his team’s place in Falcons history. “When I think of this team I think there are no holes. I think we can be a lot for teams to handle at times.”
As mentioned, Messiah (24-1-1) is now 10-time National Champions—a continuing record for NCAA Division III. They are also now 74-12-5 all-time in NCAA Tournament games.