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Crimson ride into Sweet 16 with victory over Monmouth

A rowdy Ohiri Field had to wait a nail-biting 30:18 for Harvard to score the first goal of its second-round soccer match in the NCAA tournament against the Monmouth Hawks. But once the Crimson got on the board Sunday (Nov. 22), they couldn’t be stopped.

Second-team, All-Ivy defender Richard Smith ’13 rebounded the ball in a crowded penalty box after two Crimson shots hit the crossbar. He found an opening and booted the ball into the back of the net to start the scoring. Harvard followed with two more goals in the second half to hand Monmouth (18-2-2) just its second loss of the season, 3-0.

In a game marred by rough physical play, three players on each team were issued yellow cards, and the Crimson finished the game with a season-high 24 fouls. Worried that the game might get out of hand, at one point second-year head coach Jamie Clark strongly urged his team to keep on the ball and stay focused.

“The fouls were 15-9 in the first half, and that’s more fouls than we usually commit in a full game,” said Clark. “I just didn’t want the game to get away from us. We’ve seen 1-0 leads evaporate before, and you just have to make sure you’re really tight.”

In the second half, senior co-captain and 2009 Ivy Player of the Year Andre Akpan ’10 gave Harvard a 2-0 lead in the 67th minute, when the fleet forward split two defenders and fired the ball past the Monmouth goalkeeper for his 12th goal of the season and 47th of his career, tying Chris Ohiri’s ’64 all-time record.

Akpan’s tally was followed by a goal from senior midfielder Adam Rousmaniere in the 85th minute, putting a final exclamation point on the win. Off a free kick, Rousmaniere bent the ball around three Monmouth defenders and past the Hawks goalkeeper.

“From the beginning, we knew it was going to be a little chippy; we knew it was going to be a battle,” said Akpan. “We’ve tried to make a point of coming out strong every game, and that’s what we did. But they did too. So it was kind of two teams butting heads from the beginning.”

“I think it was a great game,” said Clark. “For the most part it was a 1-0 game. A few moments of brilliance separated the game, and I thought that was the only difference between the two teams.”

When asked what it might mean to become the Crimson’s all-time goal-scorer next week in his final collegiate game on Ohiri Field, Akpan said humbly, “It would be huge; it would mean the world. But I’d rather we score 10 goals and I score zero, and we win this game and get to the Elite Eight. Hopefully, I can continue to score goals in my life, but this is my last chance to make it far in the tournament. That’s what I’m really looking for.”

The 10th-seeded Crimson (14-3-1) will continue their stirring run by hosting the Maryland Terrapins on Sunday (Nov. 29).