As the soccer ball nestled itself in the back of Randolph College’s goal net in Wildcat Stadium, senior and center midfielder Brian Cornell immediately began running towards the Virginia Wesleyan sideline. When he arrived to the crowd of elation, celebration and joy, he knew what to do.
“I fell to the ground ‘cause I knew the dog pile was coming,” said Cornell with a laugh. “I was waiting for it.”
Not only did Cornell get mobbed by his teammates in the corner of the field, his game winning penalty kick 90 seconds into overtime sealed the Marlins 2-1 comeback win over the Wildcats. In the process, the team captured the programs first Old Dominion Athletic Conference (ODAC) championship in five years and an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament.
“It took me a while to kind of grasp what had happened,” said junior and forward Isaac Arrington. “I mean all offseason, spring season and summer is about making your craft better all for that one moment. But, I just sort of stood there. I kinda just took it all in.”
“We felt all along that we were the best team in the ODAC,” said first year Head Men’s Soccer Coach Christopher Mills.
However, the ODAC title game was no easy feat. The Marlins, who had suffered a 4-1 defeat to Randolph College during the regular season, needed to find a way to stop the fourth ranked offense in the country, which was averaging 3.44 goals a game.
Anchored by sophomore goalkeeper Connor Kirkham, the Marlins defensive back line held the Wildcats to a clean sheet for the first half.
“The back line would bend but not break,” said Arrington. “They would not give up. Our defense, phenomenal stuff.”
Yet, Arrington and the rest of the Men’s Soccer team knew that it was only a matter of time before the offensive juggernaut made it’s strike.
In the 76th minute, the Wildcats punched first. Senior forward Corey Sindle launched a long, low strike that landed itself at the back of the Marlins goal net.
“I was mad. I was like, you’ve got to be kidding me,” said Cornell. “This is not happening, not against Randolph.”
“We still had 14 minutes left on the clock,” said sophomore center attacking midfielder Josh Kemp. “There was a bunch of us that were saying, ‘We’re still in this,’ and ‘We still got it.’”
One of the team members gearing the Marlins ready for their counter-attack was captain and junior midfielder Josh McNamara, who had pulled Arrington aside after the Wildcats goal to explain the new game plan.
“They scored and Josh McNamara, our captain, walked over to me and said, ‘Alright, I’m giving you the ball, you’re running down the side of the field and you’re going to put in a good ball,’” said Arrington.
26 seconds later, Arrington did exactly that. Sprinting down the left flank of the Wildcats back line, the junior forward lobbed a perfect ball into the Randolph box. Yet, instead of hitting a Marlin player, the ball deflected off Randolph junior and defensive back Coulton Watson, scoring the goal and putting the game at 1-1.
With neither team breaking through in the final minutes of the game, the match was extended to overtime. Fittingly, the Marlins wasted no time getting in position to score as they were awarded a penalty kick 90 seconds into overtime.
“We got the penalty kick call after Isaac Arrington got taken down by two guys inside the box,” said Mills.
As Cornell lined up to take the penalty kick, no one had any doubt that the senior center midfielder would make it.
“He went right over and grabbed the ball,” said Mills. “He just had that look in his eyes.”
“The look Cornell had walking up to take the penalty kick, I was like, it’s going in,” said Kemp. “He was as confident as I had ever seen him. I was ready to run to the corner and celebrate.”
And celebrate they did. Hugs, tears and joy spread throughout the Marlin’s sideline as the ODAC trophy passed from one hand to another. The win was especially important for the team’s seniors, who could finally breathe a small sigh of relief.
“Before us, every class that came through Wesleyan had won an ODAC title and we had just accomplished it,” said Cornell. “It was a little bit of pressure. But, we definitely handled it really well and got the title.”
“They worked so hard for four years,” said Mills. “They’ve been a part of the program with a lot of the lows and to end it on this extreme high is definitely exciting for them. Something they definitely deserve.”
“We wanted it, we needed it because the last time we won the ODAC title was five years ago, so our seniors had never won one,” said Kemp. “It was due really.”
However, the celebration will be short-lived. After defeating the offensive juggernaut in Randolph College, the Marlins are set to face the defensive juggernaut of Carnegie Mellon University. The 13th ranked Tartans have nine shutouts in 16 games and is 14th nationally in shutout percentage. The Marlins, however, are not fazed by their new challenge in the NCAA tournament.
“We’re not at our goals yet,” said Cornell. “We haven’t achieved our goals, we still have work to do.”
“I’m going to treat it like another game,” said Arrington. “They’re going to have to match us. We’re not going to settle for their level. We’re pretty confident.”
The Marlins will play the Carnegie Mellon Tartans on Saturday, Nov. 16 at 1:30 p.m.