Finishing the regular season on a double overtime draw with No. 2 seed Bowdoin and a 1–0 victory over Williams, Tufts enters the NESCAC tournament as the No. 1 seed. The team has not conceded a single goal in seven games, thanks to the team’s impenetrable defensive mentality and the outstanding efforts of senior goalkeeper Bruce Johnson.
The first half of the game against the Bowdoin Polar Bears saw few significant scoring chances for the Jumbos, as they only totaled two shots while the Polar Bears had zero. However, both teams did threaten to score, with crosses being played into the box multiple times on either side. Shots were slightly too high to connect on both sides. Sophomore forward Gavin Tasker and sophomore midfielder Zach Lane challenged Bowdoin’s defense by applying pressure up top.
Tufts has not defeated Bowdoin in a regular or post season match since 2012, and the team took on a different mentality entering this game.
“We still haven’t beat them [Bowdoin] in my four years, but what was different for our approach in this game than in others was that we get anxious and nervous with Bowdoin because we haven’t done so well in the past,” senior co-captain Conor Coleman said. “We took a deep breath and realized that, for us to win the NESCAC league this year [Bowdoin] had to beat us, but if we tied or won then we would have won the NESCAC.”
Bowdoin came the closest to netting a goal 48 minutes in, when the ball slipped through Tufts’ back line and Bowdoin sophomore Jason Oliver raced forward to take a shot from within the 18. The shot, however, sailed wide on the right side. Less than a minute later, Tasker challenged Bowdoin senior tri-captain goalkeeper Stevie Van Siclen one-on-one with a rolling shot to the bottom right corner, but Van Siclen came away with the save.
“[The Polar Bears] had to change their style of play to attack us, so we could sit off and we could relax a little bit. We didn’t have to go win the game against them or push numbers forward, so our halftime talk was about how we are a better team, we can control the ball, and chances are going to come,” Coleman said. “We could be more patient than we have in past years with Bowdoin and get over that anxiety.”
With 26 minutes to go in regulation, both teams were desperate to get on the scoreboard. Turnovers in the midfield were rampant as both teams scrambled to take control of the game. Near the end of the second half, Bowdoin was awarded a corner kick that curved into the right goal post but was cleared. Just three minutes later, senior midfielder Christian Zazzali made a string of tackles and clears for the Jumbos, squashing the Polar Bears’ late game efforts.
Neither team could find the back of the net by the end of regulation, resulting in two 10-minute overtime periods. Sophomore midfielder Brett Rojas ripped a shot from the 18 that skimmed by the right post two minutes into the first overtime period. With five minutes remaining, Bowdoin took a free kick that bounced into the box and hit the crossbar, rebounding to a Bowdoin player who took another shot inches in front of the goal line. Johnson made a diving save, squashing Bowdoin’s last legitimate scoring chance in the game. Johnson has yet to allow a goal this season.
Against Williams, Tufts got on the scoreboard early and clung to a 1–0 lead to clinch the victory. After a scrum in the Ephs’ 18, Lane found the ball at the corner of the box, where he beat an outside defender and got a shot off that was deflected into the net, scoring the winning goal for the Jumbos at 22:35.
Following the lone goal of the game, the defensive strategies of both teams were challenged.
“We didn’t necessarily need another goal but we always play to score; we weren’t sitting back and defending,” Lane said. “We weren’t really satisfied with the 1–0 win. It turned out that they had most of the pressure in the second half and ended up turning into more of a defensive battle more than anything.”
Despite the shutout, Williams generated many scoring chances in the second half and outshot Tufts 9–6 for the game, but both teams had four shots on net. This was the second time all season in which Tufts did not outshoot its opponent. Williams applied enormous offensive pressure throughout the second half but was unable to put the ball between the posts.
The team attributes Williams’ scoring opportunities in the second half to a direct playing style.
“[The Ephs] played a very direct style of play, so any time one of their defenders had the ball, they just would play a long ball forward,” Lane said. “We were good at winning the first ball, but our midfield wasn’t very connected with our back line, so [the Ephs] were winning a lot of second balls and putting it into our box.”
This Saturday, Tufts hosts the NESCAC quarterfinals against the No. 8 seed in the NESCAC. The Jumbos have lost their last three league quarterfinal matches and have not won a quarterfinal since 2012, which they hope to change on Saturday.
“We view [the NESCAC tournament] like it is the start of a new season so its 0–0 going into the season,” Coleman said. “Hopefully against whoever we play, we will be able to get our first NESCAC win, which I know all of the seniors really want because we haven’t been doing so well in the NESCAC tournament over the years.”