Senior right back Roshan Patel made it clear he isn’t ready to say goodbye to Martin Family Stadium just yet.
Patel’s 54th-minute free kick goal was enough to give William and Mary (9-4-2, 4-2-1 CAA) a 1-0 home victory over James Madison (8-10, 1-6 CAA) and home-field advantage in the first round of the Colonial Athletic Association tournament. The Wednesday night game, the last of the regular season, was a quintessential Tribe win, marked by physical play, smart defending and a grind-it-out goal.
“Games with JMU are always just battles, regardless of what the records are,” head coach Chris Norris said. “We knew there was a lot on the line tonight, in terms of — at a minimum — getting a home game on Saturday night, and, obviously, we’re continuing to try to improve our resume for an at-large bid if we don’t win the CAA tournament.”
Notably, the Tribe returned to its defensive stubbornness and exactitude Wednesday. The Tribe had given up at least two goals in each of its previous three games after only allowing two goals to No. 25 Creighton. Wednesday’s shutout was the Tribe’s eighth of the season, most in the CAA, and Norris found the team’s performance encouraging.
“I thought, overall, we did a good job on defense,” Norris said. “I would have liked it if we had prevented some of the service. We kind of bent, but didn’t break.”
Playing for a full crowd, both teams failed to create legitimate scoring chances through the first half. But JMU made its intent clear with flying elbows and forceful tackles — the Tribe would have to earn a victory on JMU’s terms. The physicality of the opposing players made it more difficult for the undersized Tribe players to penetrate into the JMU box. Overall, the first half provided a paucity of shots on goal (3) and an abundance of fouls (10).
One JMU foul early in the second half led to the only goal the Tribe needed. Taking the free kick from just outside the right side of the goal box, Patel knifed the ball into scoring position where it took a fortunate deflection into the net.
“It wasn’t much really,” Patel said. “We got a foul at the top of the box, and I told Chris Perez, ‘I got this.’ I could see the wall wasn’t set correctly, so I just wanted to get it up and over and on-target. Luckily, it took a slight deflection and ended up going in.”
The Tribe defense, spearheaded by Patel and senior center back Will Smith, took the single goal and turned it into a victory, but not without some anxiety. In the final five minutes, the Tribe’s shutout could have easily turned into two goals and a loss, if not for intelligent positioning and relentless defensive intensity.
JMU forward Josh Grant sent a close header goal-bound in the 88th minute, but Tribe freshman goalkeeper Mac Phillips snagged it out of the air before it crossed the goal line. Less than a minute later, sophomore midfielder Chris Dunn made a sliding block of a dangerous JMU shot near the goal post to seal the Tribe’s victory.
Patel attested to the uplifting effect of Wednesday’s win in anticipation of the CAA tournament.
“We had a rough time the last two games, but it’s good to get back to winning ways,” Patel said. “We’re going to try to ride this wave through the rest of the tournament, and hopefully the CAA finals.”
The Tribe hosts Hofstra (8-6-3, 2-3-2 CAA), a team it narrowly defeated 3-2 earlier in the season, at Martin Family Stadium Saturday at 7 p.m. for the quarterfinal match of the CAA tournament. If it prevails against the Pride, the Tribe will face 2-seed North Carolina-Wilmington in Philadelphia for the semifinal.