WALTHAM, Mass. – Brandeis University senior Sam Ocel (No. Attleboro, Mass./No. Attleboro) headed home a cross from classmate Lee Russo (Westford, Mass./Westford Acad.) with just 29.4 seconds left in regulation tonight to lead the Judges past visiting Vassar College and into the third round of the NCAA Division III Men's Soccer Tournament. With the win, the Brandeis men join their counterparts on the women's side in the Sweet 16 as they improve to 18-2-1 on the season. Vassar sees its campaign come to a close at 13-5-3. The Judges will move on to face Williams College in the Sweet 16 next weekend on Saturday, November 17, at Amherst College.
The game-winning exchange started at midfield. Sophomore back Robbie Lynch (Weymouth, Mass./Weymouth) fired a long throw-in from midfield to Russo. The ball bounced once, and Russo took a touch to the right side of the 18-yard box. He fired a cross that Ocel was able to get a head on to redirect past the outstretched arms of Vassar goalkeeper Ryan Grimme.
"It's the best feeling in the world," Ocel said about scoring such a dramatic goal.
"Out of the corner of my eye I saw him, and he was unmarked for whatever reason so I tried to put it in his area and he made a really nice finish," added Russo.
Ocel's game-winning goal capped a frantic final 13 minutes that saw the teams move back and forth across the field. The game got even more frenetic in the final six minutes, when Vassar denied a Brandeis corner at the 83:57 mark. The Brewers' clearance turned immediately into a corner of their own less than a minute later. The visitors had a fine opportunity when senior Zander Mrlik, who scored the game-winner in Vassar's 1-0 win over Tufts last night, leapt and got a head on the ball, but Judge junior midfielder Kyle Feather (Pinebrook, N.J./Montville Township) was there to clear the ball off the line with a header of his own. Said Brandeis keeper Blake Minchoff (Fiskdale, Mass./Tantasqua Regional) of the play, "[Mrlik] just made a great play on the ball, but when it went past me I knew Feather had it. That's why we put someone on the post."
Ocel had the game's next shot as the clock crept under five minutes left in regulation, but VC's Ryan Grimme came up with his seventh save of the night. After the teams sent the ball back and forth, the game-winning exchange took place. The goal was Ocel's 13th of the season, nine of which have been game-winners. He has scored the game-winning goal in Brandeis's last three games and five of the last six.
Both teams had opportunities to break the deadlock throughout the rest of the contest, including a pair of goals that were negated by offsides calls. In the first half for Vassar, the Brewers were flagged in the 43rd minute. A long throw-in by Nick Hess was headed by Mlrik through the box to sophomore forward Tom Wiechert, who was ruled to be offside before his ensuing header found the back of the net. Three minutes into the second half, it was the Judges who were burned when Russo hit the far post and Feather was flagged despite his redirection into the goal.
Both goalkeepers were outstanding, with Grimme making seven saves in the losing effort and Brandeis senior Blake Minchoff (Fiskdale, Mass./Tantasqua Regional) with three. Grimme opened the game with a fine stop on Feather in the second minute, batting a strike from the top of the box over the crossbar. Minchoff's top save came in the 31st minute when he dove and got his chest in front of a blast from Simon Whitelaw, who put the ensuing rebound wide. The Judges also had another defensive save off a corner in the 20th minute, when sophomore Matt Brondoli (Durham, N.C./Durham School of the Arts) denied Mrlik.
Brandeis advances to the Sweet 16 in their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1985. The Judges had not won an NCAA tournament game since 1984, when they reached the national finals.
Said 40-year head coach Mike Coven of his squad, "I'd be hard pressed to say there's a team I've enjoyed more than this one. Theire love for one another and passion for the game makes them really special and I'm very happy for them. I've had the championship team, a couple Final Four teams, the ECAC championship team last year, but this team's real special."