They knocked little Brian Kelly down not once, not twice but three times in the third quarter yesterday.
But Kelly, a fiery midfielder who played as a freshman at Johns Hopkins, kept getting back up and finally, in the fourth quarter, he scored two key goals to help Essex Community College hold off a rallying Nassau (N.Y.) Community College, 13-11, in the semifinals of the National Junior College Athletic Association championships at Catonsville Community College.
The victory sends Essex (15-0) against Herkimer (N.Y.) Community College (15-4) in today's title game at 2 p.m. at
Herkimer, behind three goals and one assist by midfielder Andy Fish, rolled to a 15-5 win over the State University of New York at Farmingdale in the other semifinal yesterday.
Essex will seek to bring the title to Maryland for the first time in the 22-year history of the tournament. The Knights finished second last season, losing to Nassau in the championship game, 16-9.
After bolting to a 9-2 lead early in the third quarter yesterday, Essex was wilting fast in the 80-degree heat against a charged-up Nassau team.
Nassau had cut the Essex advantage to 10-7 with a little more than nine minutes left in the game when the 5-foot-8, 150-pound Kelly made his first big play to put the ball in the net.
Kelly darted between two Nassau defenders and bounced a shot through goalkeeper Jim Murray's legs for a 11-7 lead with 7 minutes, 23 seconds remaining.
But that wasn't enough to stop the Lions.
Erik Steinmetz answered with a goal off a sharp pass from John Cavaliero with 5:59 left to reduce the lead to three again.
One minute later, Kelly's goal kept the Knights from falling apart.
The second Kelly goal was a bit more spectacular than the first one. He tore through the Nassau defense without the ball, took a perfect pass from Derrick Allender and tossed the ball into the net while falling to the ground.
"That second goal by Kelly was the big one," said Essex coach Tim Puls. "We were only up by three, and they had enough time left to come back. Brian plays down and dirty, and we needed a big play at that time."
Kelly said his two fourth-quarter goals were especially satisfying, not only because of the physical shots he had been taking from the Nassau players but because of the oral shots the Essex team had been hearing from Nassau.
"They were talking stuff all the game," said Kelly. "We should have had four or five more goals in the first half, but their goalkeeper [Murray, who had 26 saves including several from point-blank range] was unbelievable.