The Day – The Conn College men beat Tufts 5-4 to win their first trip to the NCAA D-III Final Four
A tough Connecticut College men’s football team survived an exhilarating and grueling 90-minute run to make program history on Sunday.
With a wild 5-4 victory over New England Small College Athletic Conference rival Tufts in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III tournament in Medford, Mass., The Camels head to the Final Four for the first time.
“Surreal,” coach Reuben Burk said over the phone early Sunday evening. “It still hasn’t sunk. Just a crazy game. Hard to express. Maybe relief more than excitement. I think it might settle down later tonight or tomorrow when we go to the Final Four.
“My initial reaction is I can’t believe what I just saw. Between playing college football and coaching college football, this is definitely the craziest game I’ve been to.”
The Camels, ranked sixth (17-4-1) will face Washington and Lee (18-1-2), a 3-1 victory over the No.8 Messiah on Sunday, in the domestic semi-final at 5 p.m. on Friday, December 3. , in Greensboro, NC, Amherst and the University of Chicago will meet in Game 2 at 7:45 p.m.
Men’s soccer is only the second Conn College team to qualify for the Final Four, joining the 1999 men’s basketball program.
The victory was even sweeter as it came against host Tufts, the two reigning national champion and a constant thorn on Conn’s side. The Camels, who won the NESCAC regular season title, lost the tournament final to the Jumbos on November 7. They were also eliminated by Tufts on their first trip to the NCAA quarterfinals in 2019.
Conn gained confidence by handing Tufts his only loss of the regular season on October 23.
“I’ll be honest, yeah,” Burk said when asked if it was nicer to go to the Final Four beating Tufts. “Everyone on the team would say yes. That was almost meant to be, right? The guys were joking (Saturday) that they didn’t want to play in the Elite Eight unless it was Tufts.
“Losing in 2019 in the Elite Eight, then losing in the NESCAC Championship, if there was a game to get them, that was good that game. Definitely a good game to get.”
On Sunday, the Camels recovered from a two-goal deficit and took a 5-2 lead in the second half before holding on.
Senior MT Tshuma scored two goals, runner-up Jack Creus had one goal and a career-high three assists and junior Augie Djerdjaj added one goal and one assist. Junior goaltender Sam Maidenberg made six saves and cut several other dangerous chances.
“Maybe that’s the thing I’m most proud of as a coach is the resilience because it would be really easy to throw in the towel for them with their crowd,” said Burk. “They are the reigning national champions. You just need to play one game at a time.”
It was a wild game from the start as the two teams traded goals in the first half, with Conn College responding twice after Tufts’ goal. Tshuma’s header on an assist from sophomore Ryan Jaran tied it to 1 and sophomore Matt Scoffone’s strike just before halftime at the mark of 44:41 tied it to 2.
“The turning point of the game was the goal just before the second half,” said Burk. “It heavily influences the game before half-time 2-2. Pick up the momentum and we can regroup at half-time. The guys deserve a ton of credit, they just believe in themselves, stick with it to the game plan and settle the game down after conceding a goal. “
Scoffone’s tally, who was assisted by Djerdjaj and Creus, was the first of four straight goals for the Chamels, who displayed poise and a deadly finishing touch.
Creus hit a laser high into the goal to give Conn College the lead for good, 3-2, about two minutes into the second half. He then scored goals for Djerdjaj and Tshuma for a 5-2 lead.
A seemingly secure lead turned into thin when Max Jacobs and Sean Traynor scored within two minutes apart for Tufts to close the lead to 5-4 at 71:01.
Conn College did just enough to hold Tufts back in the frantic final minutes. The Camels tied a season high in goals in one game and also gave up a season high.
“In 2019 when we played against Tufts we struggled to shoot, let alone goals,” said Burk. “Someone made the comment as the game was going on, both teams take off their gloves and fight each other.”
The Camels stormed the field from the final whistle.
Now they’ll be resting before getting ready for the Final Four.
“While it’s great to make history, we went too far not to do our best to win it all,” said Burk. “Now that we can see it, let’s be the national champions.”