MEDFORD – In a tremendously compelling NCAA "Elite 8" game, the Connecticut College men's soccer team defeated Tufts University 5-4 on Sunday at Bello Field to earn the Camel program's first NCAA "Final Four" berth.
Tufts, which was attempting to advance to its fifth Final Four, finishes its season with a 15-2-4 record. There will be a new national champion in 2021 as the two-time defending champs from Tufts (2018, 2019) were eliminated.
"I want to say how proud I am of this group," Tufts head coach Kyle Dezotell said. "What they have accomplished this season - winning the NESCAC championship, being the top seed in the NCAA Tournament, and losing only two games all season is a remarkable achievement. We intentionally didn't talk about it, but the adversity we were dealt with injuries was unlike any season I have ever experienced as a coach. Our guys truly just dealt with it and it was always the next man up mentality. I am so proud of them and they should hold their heads up very high. This senior class in particular have had unbelievable careers and leave as some of the most decorated NCAA DIII men's soccer players ever."
Two of the top 20 defensive teams in the country, Tufts and Connecticut College went wild offensively on Sunday. The game was tied 2-2 at halftime, then the Camels scored three times within 22 minutes in the second half to take a 5-2 lead. Back-to-back Tufts goals less than two minutes apart closed the margin to 5-4 and Connecticut College had to withstand heavy Jumbo pressure over the final 20 minutes to close out the victory.
Sophomore Jake Creus tallied a goal and three assists for the Camels, while senior MT Tshuma scored twice. Junior Sam Maidenberg made six saves in the Connecticut College goal.
Tufts had a 19-14 advantage in shots, including 10-8 on goal. Corner kicks were even at five apiece. Senior Ian Daly led Tufts with two assists and finished the NCAA Tournament with 10 points (four goals, two assists). Senior Mati Cano scored Tufts' first goal and finished the NCAA Sectional weekend with two goals and an assist, including a golden goal in the Jumbos' 2-1 Sweet 16 win over Washington College on Saturday.
In the first half, the Camels had answers both times Tufts took leads. After Cano's goal in the 19th minute, 67 seconds later it was 1-1 when Tshuma scored his first for Conn. Max Clivio hammered home a rebound of his own shot for a 2-1 Tufts lead in the 28th minute. However, Matt Scoffone finished a nice touch-pass in front of the goal from Augie Djerdjaj with just 19 seconds to go until halftime tying the score 2-2.
The second half was surreal. Two minutes in, a Camel corner kick was headed away by the Jumbos, but it went to Marco Cerezo. His shot was blocked, but the deflection went right to Creus and he stuck it in the top right corner of the goal from 25 yards out for a 3-2 Camel lead.
Less than three minutes later it was 4-2 after Creus collected the ball in his own half, maneuvered into Tufts territory and sent a beautiful through-ball to Djerdjaj. Tufts goalkeeper Erik Lauta came out to challenge, but Djerdjaj put it past him for a two-goal margin.
The Jumbos put heavy pressure on the Camels at this point, but Maidenberg was poised and the visitors held their lead. He dove to his right to make a stop on shot by Daly destined for the far corner with 23:50 remaining. Maidenberg then helped set up the next Connecticut College score with a long goal kick that was headed along to Creus. He went in two on one with Tshuma, who received the pass and scored in the 67th minute making it 5-2.
The Jumbos got right back in it. Just three minutes later, Daly brilliantly kept possession and beat Camel defenders to get deep on the right side of the field. He sent a cross in front to a wide open Max Jacobs who roofed a shot pulling Tufts within 5-3 n the 70th minute. Less than two minutes after that, Eric Ingersoll won a ball at midfield and sent a long pass that was missed by a Camel defender and went to Sean Traynor who converted to pull the Jumbos within one (5-4).
The Jumbos would continue to threaten, with Jacobs putting another serious attempt at Maidenberg that was saved with 18 minutes remaining. Travis Van Brewer had a pair of free kicks in strong positions, but the Jumbos could not get the equalizer.
This was the third game between the two teams this year. Conn had won during the regular-season and Tufts won the NESCAC title, both 2-0 scores. The win is a measure of revenge for the Camels who lost 3-1 to Tufts in the Elite 8 back in 2019.