The success of this year’s No. 21 William and Mary (11-4-2, 6-2-1 CAA) squad has been dependent on the excellence of its defense. Not so Thursday, as the Tribe offense was in devastating form.
The Tribe’s attackers piled in six goals to upend North Carolina — Wilmington (9-6-2, 4-3-1 CAA) 6-3 and send the College to the Colonial Athletic Association tournament final. The Tribe had never won a game in which its defense surrendered three goals; in fact, its defense had given up that many goals only once this season. But it did not matter in Philadelphia.
The flood of Tribe goals was easily a season high and larger than the aggregate goal total of the College’s previous four games. Five different Tribe players scored in the match, starting with freshman forward Reilly Maw.
Just three minutes into the semifinal match, Maw put the College on the scoreboard with a header goal, his first of the season. As would turn into a pattern, the Seahawks responded soon after. Forward Mateo Cardona leveled the game at 1-1 with 28 minutes still left in the half.
The stalemate was short-lived. Sophomore forward Jackson Eskay added to his breakout season with the first of two goals in the game. Senior midfielder Chris Perez found Eskay on a sweeping deep ball just outside the box, where Eskay maneuvered past a defender and sent the ball dribbling past UNC-W’s goalkeeper to put the Tribe up 2-1 going into halftime.
Eskay pounded through his second score of the game soon after halftime, giving the Tribe a 3-1 advantage. UNC-W’s Cardona responded just minutes later with a flawless shot that soared just above freshman goalkeeper Mac Phillip’s outstretched arms.
With his squad still up 3-2, Perez put through one of the finest Tribe goals of the season. In a span of seconds, Perez received the ball just to the right of the box, faked out two defenders, and sent a brilliant shot into the upper reaches of the goal. For a defensive unit that came in averaging 0.88 goals allowed, Perez’s goal made the Tribe’s lead seem insurmountable.
But the Seahawks responded once more. This time, UNC-W used a set piece goal to pull within one with 30 minutes remaining. In their recent meeting, the teams traded goals all the way to a double-overtime tie. The Tribe aimed to secure a regulation win in the rematch.
Senior center back Will Smith, the CAA’s Defensive Player of the Year, averted two potential UNC-W equalizers in the second half by blocking shots that had slipped past Phillips.
Junior midfielder Marcus Luster, who joined Smith as an All-CAA first team selection, sliced through the Seahawks defense with 13 minutes left and found junior midfielder Chris Albiston for a header goal to put the Tribe up 5-3.
Senior forward Ben Coffey put the finishing touches on the College’s staggering offensive night. With the Seahawk’s back line exposed, Coffey found space in the box and clanged home a goal off the post to improve the Tribe’s lead to 6-3. The goal came with just four minutes left in the match and guaranteed the College a spot in Saturday’s CAA final.
The Tribe will play for its eighth CAA championship Saturday at 4 p.m. against Drexel, which won in penalty kicks Thursday.