strongEvan Sporer, Beacon Staff/strong
Emerson men’s soccer head coach Jared Scarpaci said he has preached to his team the importance of finishing games strong throughout the early part of its season.
After leading or being tied in the second half of every one of the team’s first four games, Scarpaci’s squad had yet to notch a victory going into Saturday’s match with Mount Ida College.
When Emerson conceded the first goal against its conference foe this past Saturday, it was the Lions’ seniors that led the charge to a comeback victory.
Falling behind 1-0 in the early stages against the Mustangs, Emerson stormed back on the strength of two goals scored via set pieces to capture its first victory of the season and its first victory in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) by a score of 2-1.
Emerson looked to have taken the lead only minutes into the game. After a smooth combination play in the midfield between the Lions’ Evan Gooden and Jacob Lawrence, Gooden played a ball over the top into the box. Emerson senior Cory Walls flicked on a header to an open John Havens, who tapped the ball towards the goal. However, the Mustangs’ goalie quickly punched the ball away, and the referee allowed the teams to play on.
Emerson’s players were visibly upset with the non-call, berating the referee to overturn his decision and award the Lions with a goal. In the meantime, only two minutes later, Ida scored off a corner kick, and led 1-0.
“Really the only answer for that is experience,” Scarpaci said. “They just have to stay focused on what’s going on in the game.”
The Lions regrouped. With Walls pestering the Ida defense, Emerson was able to get a number of chances near the Mount Ida goal. Then, just over 20 minutes into the game, Walls again found his way into the Mount Ida defense, and was tripped up by a Mustangs defender 15 yards from the goal, drawing a penalty kick for Emerson.
“I try to bring as much intensity as possible, and the sweepers and defenders will always give it right back,” Walls said. “It’s a hard-fought battle: I usually only go down when there’s a foul.”
Emerson’s senior captain Ken Nikravesh stepped up to take the kick and blasted a right-footed shot past the Mustangs’ goalkeeper, knotting the score at one.
“This is the first season I’m taking [penalty kicks], but I felt confident,” Nikravesh said.
The teams went into halftime still deadlocked at one. For Emerson, the scenario was familiar. What transpired next, however, was new to this team.
It even caught the players by surprise.
With just over 20 minutes left in the game, a Mount Ida foul over 50 yards away from its goal gave Emerson a free kick. Nikravesh stood over the ball, and launched a high ball into a crowd of Ida players. As the ball continued to carry, Walls made a run across the face of the goal, and with his back to the play, redirected the ball past the Mustangs keeper.
“I’ll tell you, that was a pretty amazing goal,” Scarpaci said. “For him to contort his body and skim it off his head — it was world class.”
Lawrence, who was on the bench at the time of the goal, agreed.
“We don’t really score much on crosses or balls in the air,” Lawrence said.
After that, it was up to Scarpaci’s players to finish out the win, and they did just that. Emerson scrapped for loose balls, flung their bodies in front of shots, and did everything they could to preserve the 2-1 lead.
With only a minute left in the game, Walls took a ball on the Emerson sideline and played it into the corner. The communcation studies major chased the defender shielding the ball all the way to the end line, sprinting straight past his bench, and drawing cheers from his teammates and coaches.
“Cory has just been a model,” Scarpaci said. “I think it’s a great example of how you’ve got to come into the season. That much in shape, that fast, that fit, and that much ready to go.”
For Walls, it was about securing the Lions’ first victory of the season and sending a message to the team’s younger players.
“The intensity is what I want the younger guys to see and get motivated by,” Walls said.
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