Soccer is the rare sport in which a team can thoroughly dominate a game and still lose. That is exactly what happened to the Mammoths on Saturday, Oct. 30, in the first round of this season’s NESCAC playoffs. Amherst, the number-two seed, fell to the number-seven seed Colby Mules on penalties, 3-4, despite outshooting them 21-3 in open play.
The Mammoths, who comprehensively beat the Mules 2-0 just a week earlier, came close to scoring time after time but never broke through.
Typical of a high-pressure playoff matchup, the first half was relatively cagey — with a number of fouls on both sides of the ball and few shots. The ball-dominant Mammoths prevented the Mules from taking a single shot, but failed to produce offensive opportunities of their own at the level they typically do. They mustered just four shots in the opening 45 minutes, and forced the Mules’ keeper to make only one save.
However, the Mammoths surged forward in the second period; they took 11 shots and challenged the Colby keeper five times. This left them slightly more open to the Mules at the back, allowing for a few offensive chances — three shots, two on net. The increased offensive pressure for the Mammoths found no outlet, though, and the teams entered the 20-minute golden-goal (sudden victory) overtime period deadlocked.
Amherst had good looks on net in the first 10 minutes of overtime, but the Colby keeper mustered saves on three separate occasions to keep the clock running. Colby failed to take a single shot across the 20 minutes of extra-time, but they did enough to keep the game even — forcing penalty kicks.
Across two matchups, in the regular season and playoffs, the Mammoths outshot the Mules 34-5; Amherst keeper Kofi Hope-Gund ’22 was forced to make just two saves in 200 minutes of play. At the end of overtime at Hitchcock Field on Saturday, though, none of that mattered.
The Mules shot first in penalty kicks, scoring their attempt. The Mammoths responded in kind to put the score at 1-1. Both teams made their second looks, before Hope-Gund made a full-stretch save on Colby’s Colin Sullivan attempt, opening the door for the Mammoths: if they made their last three penalties, they would be moving on. Colby keeper Noah Jackson came up with a huge save on the third penalty, though, keeping the teams even. Both teams made their fourth attempts. Mario Simoes then put his team’s fifth attempt past Hope-Gund, placing the pressure on the Mammoths. Star forward German Giammattei ’22 stepped up to the spot. Bailing his team out — not for the first time in either the shootout or the game — Jackson again made the save, clinching the 4-3 win.
The Mules streamed onto the field, piling on top of their keeper. They will continue on to face number one seed Connecticut College in the semifinals this coming weekend.
Amherst’s season may not yet be over, but the team’s most obvious route to the Division III national championships — the automatic bid that goes to the NESCAC champion — has closed. Their regular-season record may still be good enough, though, to punch their ticket to the tournament via an at-large bid. The Mammoths fell in the NESCAC tournament the last time it was played, in 2019, but still managed to make the national playoffs — in which they made it all the way to the national championship game. The Mammoths will learn whether or not they’ve made the tournament on Monday, Nov. 8.