Kristen Leigh Porter, NCAA.com
Santa Barbara, Calif. – Top-seeded Louisville entered the NCAA College Cup as the only team in the field without a need for a tournament win via overtime or penalty kicks. The Cardinals (20-0-3) continued the trend Friday in a semifinal game against fourth-seeded North Carolina (16-4-4) at Harder Stadium on the UC Santa Barbara campus.
As the public address announcer informed the crowd of 7,560 there was one minute to play, freshman Aaron Horton scored from eight feet out with 51 seconds left on a pass from sophomore Ryan Smith to give the Cardinals a 2-1 win. That secured a berth in the first NCAA Championship match in program history.
Horton, who now has three goals for the season, also scored the gamewinner against UCLA with 52 seconds left in a 5-4 victory Dec. 4 to send the Cardinals to their first College Cup. Both times, Horton — who usually subs in at forward for junior All-American Colin Rolfe — entered the game late.
“We’re going to continue to wait until the last minute to throw ‘em in,” Louisville coach Ken Lolla said.
North Carolina was coming off three consecutive penalty shootout wins and appearing in its third consecutive College Cup. They last surrendered two goals on Sept. 28 at Old Dominion, also a 2-1 loss.
“We wish the outcome of the game had been a little different as we had high hopes of heading back into the championship final and bringing back our second championship to North Carolina,” said coach Elmar Bolowich, whose team lost to Akron in the semis last year on penalty kicks.
Louisville junior Austin Berry’s header in the 58th minute on an assist from freshman Dylan Mares put the Cardinals on the scoreboard. As is custom at host UC Santa Barbara soccer games, a dozen tortillas littered the field after Berry’s goal.
North Carolina answered in the 62nd minute on a header goal by senior Stephen McCarthy on an assist from junior Alex Dixon, doubling the number of tortillas on the pitch. The field was later cleared.
“The goal was one of their few good chances to score,” Louisville goalkeeper Andre Boudreaux said. “We had faith and the belief we could come back and get another goal.”
The Tar Heels finished the season 0-2-3 after going on a 12-match unbeaten streak.
“We responded well after getting scored on after their first goal, I think that just shows a lot about our team and how we have been battling back against teams all year,” Tar Heels sophomore goalkeeper Scott Goodwin said. “We definitely picked it up in the second half, unfortunately, it was not enough at the end of the day.”
It also got chippy in the second half, with yellow cards assessed to North Carolina’s Eddie Ababio and Louisville’s Mares. Ababio became UNC’s all-time leader in career caps (89) in his final match.
“I thought it was a very physical game,” Lolla said. “The referee’s interpretation of the game I think was to just let them play. It didn’t hurt us, but it didn’t help us as well. Our guys are pretty resilient.”
One more win and Louisville can be the first team to finish undefeated since Santa Clara in 1989.