Of the 32 teams left in the NCAA Division I Men's Tournament, none came from as far back as Central Connecticut State.
After 12 games, the Blue Devils were 2-8-2 and had scored only eight goals. If there was a way to lose, CCSU found it. In back-to-back Northeast Conference games, it lost in double overtime.
Then something happened. The Blue Devils started winning. They came back from one goal down at the half to beat Robert Morris, 2-1. With only four teams selected for the conference tournament, CCSU basically needed to run the table to stay alive. It won four straight games and then tied St. Francis (N.Y.), 1-1, to clinch fourth place in the NEC.
Back-to-back 1-0 wins over No. 1 seed Monmouth and No. 2 St. Francis (Pa.) gave the Blue Devils the NEC title and their first trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Still, scoring was a problem. In each of its last five games leading up to the NCAA Tournament, Central scored only once and never all season had it scored more than two goals before it headed to Harvard for their first-round round.
But something happened in Cambridge. The Blue Devils knocked three goals past the highly regarded Crimson and won, 3-2, to set up a date Wednesday at Conference USA champion Tulsa. Twice CCSU went ahead on goals by Andrew Cooperand Connor Smith, and twice high-scoring Harvard equalized before Yan Klukowski put the Blue Devils ahead for good in the 84th minute.
Harvard almost tied the score a third time but goalie Paul Armstrong contributed two saves in the final 10 seconds and watched a third shot by Matt Hoffsmash off the crossbar.
"It is impressive that we put the ball into the net three times against the 15th ranked team in the country," CCSU coach Shaun Green said. "We put a lot into this season and at the beginning of the season there was a lot of belief without the evidence. We continued to believe in ourselves, and this win is a validation for all of the hard work and effort we put in throughout the season. We knew this team would be successful and these last few weeks have proven that all of our hard work and effort have paid off."
Cooper, Smith, Klukowski and Armstrong are all English. Add Jonathan Agbatar, who set up Klukowski's winner, Robert Cavener and David Tyrie, the 2007 NEC Defensive Player of the Year, and that makes seven starters who hail from England. An eighth starter, leading scorer Christopher Brown (five goals), is from the Isle of Man.