The ball floated into the box from the throw-in, carrying with it 95 minutes of shared angst and turmoil.
It found the head of Brown striker Dylan Sheehan, who craftily tucked it in the back of the net to seal not only the 3-2 victory for the visiting Bears (9-1-1, 2-0 Ivy), but quite possibly, the Ivy League championship.
In a game hyped across the Ivy soccer landscape as the title-defining match of the year, an unusually acrobatic and feisty No. 20 Brown squad marched onto Ohiri Field and dashed No. 7 Harvard’s hopes of continuing its stranglehold on its league peers.
Racking up 26 total shots—nine of which were on target—and two yellow cards, the Bears used physicality to neutralize Harvard’s wing play and took advantage of set-piece opportunities to minimize the impact of the Crimson’s superior speed.
Brown midfielder Darren Howerton, using a peculiar handspring technique for his throw-ins, directly contributed to two goals and was credited with the assist for the game-winner.
The first half began with an offensive blitzkrieg from the Bears, as Brown recorded seven of the game’s first eight shots before Sheehan scored the first of his two goals to take the early lead.
“We came out really flat-footed,” sophomore midfielder Chey Im said. “They were beating us on every 50-50 ball, it seemed. We knew they were going to impose their style of play on us, so we just had to play our game and be more effective.”
Less than a minute later, Harvard (8-2-1, 1-1 Ivy) was awarded a penalty kick, but co-captain and forward Matt Hoff missed, swinging it left past the far post.
The penalty miss, however, rejuvenated the Crimson attack, as Harvard peppered the Brown goal mouth, causing Bears goalkeeper Paul Grandstand to live up to his last name by making several clutch saves.
The score remained at 1-0 well into the second half until sophomore forward Andre’ Akpan skillfully redirected a cross by junior defender Marcel Perl into the upper 90 to tie the game at 1.
The goal, which extended Akpan’s scoring streak to eight consecutive games, sparked a frantic 20 minutes that saw both teams live up to each of its respective national rankings.
After Akpan’s goal in the 70th minute, Brown immediately answered the Crimson’s voracity with a crowd-silencing strike to recapture the lead.
With the clock winding down, coach John Kerr made a tactical shift in his formation, moving up defender Kwaku Nyamekye to forward and placing the impetus of the attack on the Bears’ visibly tired back line.
Encouraged by dazzling play from young midfielders Im, Alex Chi, and second-half substitution Allen Padua, Harvard quickly went on the offensive, undeterred by the specter of the scoreboard.
Winning individual battles through concise dribbling and clever through balls, the Crimson capitalized on a Mike Fucito corner kick in the 83rd minute, as Hoff flicked the ball forward to newly entrenched Nyamekye for the equalizer.
“We were down with 15 minutes to go, and we [needed] a spark,” Kerr said. “Kwaku was a natural forward [when he first arrived at Harvard], and he is always a threat, so it was good to get that goal from him.”
Unfortunately, Brown saved enough in its tank for an overtime goal against the run of play to deal a crushing blow to the Crimson faithful. Senior goalkeeper Adam Hahn, who once again turned in a stellar performance despite the final scoreline, couldn’t deal with the Bears unorthodox throw-in routine.
“He has been playing very well all season, and this game, he kept us in it,” Hoff said. “They had several chances that any other goalie probably would have let in, [so] I am very happy he’s our goalie.
“I just feel bad for him,” Hoff added. “Three goals made [it to] our net—he didn’t deserve that.”
Although faced with a disappointing result at home, Harvard has two chances in the coming week to get back to winning ways, hosting Holy Cross on Wednesday before taking on the Tigers of Princeton in a key Ivy League fixture on Saturday.
“We are still not going to give up on the Ivy League,” Kerr said. “We are still hoping to get far in the playoffs, and that is our focus now.”
“Our team is more fired up now that we have an [Ivy] loss under our belt,” Im added. “We’re going to show the rest of the Ivy League what we’re made of.”
—Staff writer Mauricio A. Cruz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.