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Three games, three overtime wins for men’s soccer conference finish

The final week of the pre-NCAA playoff soccer season saw the Eastern men play three games to three ties in regulation time, but pull out the victory in each contest. The same scene was repeated at the end of each tense match: a ball went from an Eastern player’s foot into the opposing team’s goal, and a huge crowd of Eastern fans rushed the field in joy.

The final game, the Pennsylvania Athletic Conference championship at home against Arcadia University on Saturday, November 5, was a 0-0 tie at the end of 110 minutes of play – going down in the NCAA records as a tie. The game, and the PAC title, was then decided by penalty kicks. Eastern goalkeeper Brandon Ziegler stopped the second Arcadia shot, but the Eastern players made all five of theirs. Sophomore Aaron Tritch’s clinching goal triggered the Eastern fans’ screaming descent onto the field.

The evenly-matched opponents are longtime rivals. Arcadia knocked Eastern out of the conference semifinals in 2000, 2001, and 2004, and Eastern beat Arcadia in the 2003 finals match.

But the conference championship wasn’t the only time this year the Eastern men, ranked ninth nationally, played scoreless soccer against the Arcadia Scarlet Knights. A week earlier, on October 29, Arcadia hosted the final game of the regular season – and Eastern won on a Daniel Carvalho goal with under two minutes left in the first overtime.

Both games featured lots of play in the midfield, as the teams repeatedly traded possession and got few scoring chances.

After the first Arcadia game guaranteed Eastern home field advantage for the playoffs, Alvernia College met the Eagles in the PAC semifinal game on November 2. This game, too, was played to a 1-1 tie at the end of both 10-minute overtimes, and Eastern took this game as well on penalty kicks, 3-1.

The scoring was started by EU in the first half, when sophomore defender Cliff Gehret knocked in a ball after a Mahaish Alexander corner. The fourth-seeded team in the PAC, the Crusaders evened up the score with just over a minute left in the half.

After Crusader defender Tyler Absalom earned a red card with about 25 minutes left in regulation time, Alvernia played with only 10 men for the rest of the game. Staying primarily on their own half, especially during the overtime periods, they almost seemed to be playing as if they hoped to go to penalty kicks.

While the Crusaders played defensively, Eastern pressed constantly. Several key offsides calls prevented goals, and the Alvernia keeper made several important saves. After scooping up a shot by senior Jon Ruiz with about five minutes left in the second half, he visibly wiped the sweat of his brow.

Even after the conference playoffs, there is a chance that Eastern and Arcadia could play again this fall. While Eastern gets an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs as PAC champs, Arcadia may be given an at-large bid – and a chance to take on the Eagles one more time.

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