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Thoroughly outplaying an outmatched University of Rhode Island team, but, as in Saturday's disappointing 3-2 loss to Brown, frustrated offensively, the injury-plagued Harvard booters advanced to the New England NCAA regional finals yesterday with a narrow 1-0 first round over the Rams.
Completely dominating the play in the second half but unable to convert its advantage into goals, Harvard continued to look sluggish and disorganized much of the time it had the ball. The uncharacteristic inability to score which had stymied the squad against the Bruins was again in evidence, as repeated scoring opportunities failed to click for the exasperated Crimson.
In fact, although the ball was in the URI end for nearly all of the final stanza, it was not until the waning moments of the game that the ball finally trickled into the nets for the winning score. With just 4:49 left in regulation play, and Harvard in complete command, a head shot by Demetrio Mens on an assist by Emmanuel Ekama dribbled across the goal line. The URI goalie made a diving save, but the play was whistled dead by the referee for the score.
The score was all Harvard needed as the Crimson defense played solidly all afternoon, shutting off URI's primary long ball threat outside the penalty area and repeatedly setting up the midfield for offensive rushes.
The Rams began the contest well keeping the ball in the Harvard end for the first two minutes, and getting a scoring opportunity on a corner kick. But fullback Ric Scott and Brian Fearnett controlled the head balls in front of the goal as they have all season and URI was unable to get off a threatening shot.
Quickly, however, the Crimson began to assert itself, passing much better, and moving the ball ground. But Harvard's scoring chances did not produce any goals. Late in the half, Chris Papagianis had an open net shot but a Ram fullback alertly cleared the ball. Harvard's superior skills enabled it to dribble circles around Ram defenders, but an inability to use the wings effectively and a subsequent massing in the center prevented the Crimson from taking many shots on goal.
Several corner kick opportunities were wasted when Harvard passed off instead of sending the ball into the goal area for Papagianis and Tony Van Niel to head, and the half ended in a scoreless tie.
The second half began and Harvard immediately took complete command. Goaltender Steve Kidder, who spent most of this cold, windy afternoon trying to stay warm while the Crimson moved the ball around deep in the URL end, had virtually nothing to do. The Harvard fullbacks edged up to midfield and only as occasional long ball threat made them retreat into the Crimson end.
But for the fourth consecutive half, Harvard made the extra pass instead of taking a shot on goal, and repeated corner kicks failed to produce a score. When the offense utilized its speed and skill on the wings it threatened, but when it tried to crack through the middle it was repeatedly foiled. It soon became evident that a single goal was going to decide the contest, but Harvard's constant pressure was no guarantee of a score and the sparse crowd and the Crimson bench looked extremely worried.
URI almost ended the Crimson's dream of a return trip to Miami when an errant pass was intercepted in front. But the Ram shot went wide, and Harvard again took command. Finally Mena's goal relieved the tension, and the few Ram attempts to tie the game were stopped.
"It was a remarkable recovery after Saturday's loss" coach Bruce Munro said after the game. "I've never seen a team dominate so much and still not score," he added. "We were trying to walk the ball into the net," assistant coach Chris Wilmot said, "and we were playing too much soccer, and passing too much."
The whole team played a courageous game, as most were injured. Bent Hinse was outstanding considering the fact that he could hardly walk, and Felix Adedeji captain Ric Scorr, Bahman Mossavar-Rahmani, Demetrio Mena, and Emmanual hurt. Hopefully the team will be able to recuperate for Yale tomorrow.
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