Dec. 6, 2008

Courtesy TarHeelBlue.com

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - North Carolina freshman midfielder Kirk Urso found the back of the net in the 61st minute and that was more than enough scoring for the Tar Heels and their stout defense in a 1-0 win over Northwestern Saturday in the NCAA quarterfinals at Fetzer Field. With the victory Carolina (14-7-1) advances to the NCAA Men's Soccer College Cup for the third time in program history and the first time since winning the 2001 national title.

The 13th-seeded Tar Heels advance to face either No. 1 seed Wake Forest or No. 8 seed South Florida in a national semifinal Friday, Dec. 12 at Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas.

"It was exactly the game we expected and the opponent we knew we would get, tough defensively and very strong," said Elmar Bolowich, who has guided Carolina to a pair of College Cups and a 16-11-0 record in the postseason. "They didn't give us anything and didn't make any mistakes. We had a hard time again getting the rhythm going. In the second half we regrouped, our attacking strategy paid off, and we had more looks at the goal. We felt like we needed one goal to break the ice and we got it."

After an evenly-played first half, the Tar Heels came out on the offensive after intermission, finally breaking through with Urso's game-winner at 60:52. After a Carolina corner kick, senior midfielder Michael Callahan served the ball from the left side into the box. It was chested down by a Wildcat defender, and Urso volleyed home the loose ball from 15 yards out, past NU keeper Misha Rosenthal and into the right corner of the net.

The goal was just the 13th allowed by Northwestern all season and just the second in four NCAA matches.

Urso, a native of Chicago suburb Lombard, Ill., scored for the second straight game against a team from his hometown. After missing four straight games due to injury, Urso netted Carolina's first score in the third round versus UIC and followed Saturday with his third goal of the season. Three of UNC's five postseason goals have come from freshmen.

"It's always about fighting to find the right spot and being in the right spot at the right time and lucky enough it took a good bounce for me," said Urso, who has 12 points on the year. "(Billy) Schuler, my roommate, let it go, and I was right there and buried it and it went in. It's like a dream right now. We've worked so hard. Our team, we knew we had the potential the whole year. For this to be happening at this time it's just amazing, it's just a dream."

From there, junior goalkeeper Brooks Haggerty and the Carolina defense took over. After stopping three shots in the first half, Haggerty made a diving stop on a shot by the Wildcats' Jack Hillgard in the 85th minute. Northwestern pressured for much of the final five minutes, but the Tar Heel backline was able to clear several balls off the line before Carl Pett misfired on the match's final shot with just 10 seconds remaining.

With the Wildcats pressing forward, the Tar Heels were able to post a 12-3 edge in shots over the final half but could not put the match away with a second goal. Rosenthal made a diving stop on a Billy Schuler shot in the 71st minute and turned away an Urso offering in the final minute.

Northwestern outshot UNC, 6-3, in the first half and tested Haggerty with a flurry of action in the 26th minute. The Wildcats earned successive corners, and Cody Stanely and Brian Usinger each put shots on frame that Haggerty, who finished with four saves, turned away en route to his second clean sheet of the NCAA Tournament.

"I'm very proud of our guys," said NU head coach Tim Lenahan. "Not just for this year but for this group of seniors, they're the winningest group in school history and they've done a great job. It came down to one play, and North Carolina is a very talented team, but I thought we played a great game."

With Saturday's victory, Carolina reaches its third College Cup, joining the 1987 and 2001 squads. Carolina will return to the pitch Friday at either 5:30 p.m. or 8 p.m. Eastern. The match will be nationally televised on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.