The number six seeded Stags found themselves on the wrong end of yet another double-overtime matchup, bowing out of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championship final to the number four seeded Monmouth Hawks 2-1 on Sunday afternoon. Fairfield jumped ahead 1-0 with just under 19 minutes to play, but allowed a late regulation equalizer before conceding the game-winning goal in the 104th minute.
A late red card, an inability to stifle Monmouth’s attack, and one unlucky bounce proved to be the difference makers in the loss. When all was said and done, the Hawks’ offense managed 18 shots to Fairfield’s eight. Monmouth also held an impressive 8-0 advantage on corners. Fairfield’s Matt Turner ‘16 chalked up an eight-save performance, but one parry that fell directly to the feet of Monmouth forward Dave Nigro was enough to send the Stags home empty-handed.
The first half saw both offenses come out firing, neither showing any fear of pressing their midfield high and playing long balls. Possession was evenly matched, and the quick back-and-forth play created opportunities for both sides. The Hawks held a narrow 6-4 edge in the first-half shots, but stout defense on both ends and a pair of saves each from Turner and Monmouth’s Eric Klenofsky kept it scoreless through the first 45 minutes.
Although Monmouth’s offense began to find its stride – holding a 9-3 advantage in shots in the second half – it was Jordan Ayris ‘15 who found the back of the net first for the Stags in the 71st minute. Two days after scoring the winning penalty kick in a shootout against top-seeded Quinnipiac University, Ayris unleashed a 25-yard shot from the center of the field into the top right corner, sending the Fairfield bench and more than 60 traveling students into a frenzy.
Monmouth dialed up the pressure in the following minutes, forcing an incredible diving save from Turner on a header on its way to the top left corner. The turning point came in the 81st minute, as Stags defender Angus Hastings ‘18 was called for a foul in the Fairfield box, giving Monmouth a late penalty and earning himself a sending-off in the process. Hawks defender and eventual MAAC Tournament MVP Emmanuel Senyah Agyemang stepped up and sent his spot kick past Turner into the lower right corner, knotting the game at one goal apiece with less than 10 minutes to play.
Fairfield’s momentum was sapped, and Monmouth would force two more saves from Turner before the referee whistled for the end of regulation. Down to 10 men, the Stags had no choice but to prioritize defense in overtime.
In the first 10-minute half of extra time, Fairfield’s defense hung tough in, turning away two corners and two shots. In the fourth minute of double-overtime, a cross in front of the Stags’ net was well punched away by Turner, but settled right to the feet of Nigro, who settled the ball just inside the 18-yard box and sent the ball right back into the bottom right corner, winning the title for Monmouth.
The Hawks end their regular season with an 11-3-6 record and placed four players, including the tournament MVP, on the All-Tournament Team. Monmouth will play Xavier University (13-5-2) on Nov. 20 in the first round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship.
Fairfield ends the year with an 8-5-7 record. Ayris and Ben Wignall ‘18 were named to the MAAC All-Tournament team along with Turner.