Published November 07. 2012 4:00AM
New London - A matter of inches temporarily stood between Coast Guard Academy and a game-winning celebration on Tuesday night.
It took a foot - junior Robert Copeland's foot - to finally push across the decisive goal in a 1-0 victory over Western New England the first round of the ECAC New England Division III men's soccer tournament.
When junior Matt Epperly followed up a rebound off Copeland's close range shot, the ball appeared to cross the goal line. The two Bears looked at the referee for confirmation but there was no signal.
With Western New England goalie Nick Starr on the turf, the ball deflected back out to Copeland who buried his second chance, finally setting off a celebration with 10 minutes, 11 seconds remaining.
"We both were looking at each other because we both thought it went in," Copeland said. "I thought it rolled across the line but the ref didn't blow his whistle.
"I just kept going until I was sure I knew it was in the back of the net."
Second-seeded Coast Guard (12-6-1) rebounded from a disappointing loss to Springfield in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference tournament semifinal. Seventh-seeded Western New England finished at 9-9-3.
The Bears shook off a slow start and gradually seized control of the fast-paced and physical game.
"Teams start fast against us but we wear them down a little bit," CGA coach Chris Parsons said. "We're pretty physical. When we start to pressure the ball and do the things that we need to do, then we start to break their rhythm."
Improved ball movement in the second half led to numerous scoring chances. The Bears held a huge edge in shots (23-5) but many attempts were off target. An offsides call negated freshman Lukas Benedetto's goal with 13:15 remaining.
"I thought it was only matter of time," Copeland said.
The winning play started with Benedetto sending a cross across the box to the far post. Copeland ran onto the ball and hit a low shot right at Starr.
Copeland didn't miss his next shot.
The goal sent the Bears into the semifinal round on Saturday at a site yet to be determined. They'll play the winner of today's game between third-seeded Lasell and sixth-seeded Endicott.
Sophomore goalie Richie Burns had a relatively easy game, making just three saves.
"I think we've got the mometnum back," said Parsons whose team dropped two straight prior to Tuesday's game. "We're looking forward to whoever we play in the semis. I just feel like now they'll get a little bit of a taste of it."
Coast Guard is attempting to win the ECAC championship for the first time since 2008. The Bears are making their sixth appearance in the last 10 years.
Earlier in the day, Parsons learned that he had won the NEWMAC men's soccer coach of the year award for the second time in his career.
"In reality, it's a measure of how well your team does," Parsons said. "I take it as a team award."
Copeland praised Parsons.
"Coach Parsons is fantastic...," Copeland said. "You can always tell every day he really wants to win for us. Everything he does is just for us."
• Coast Guard also had four places make the NEWMAC all-conference team. Senior Greg Kennerley and Burns were named to the first team while junior John Rendon and sophomore Matthew Bogdan made the second team.