HOOVER, Ala. – Unseeded Charlotte beat second-seeded Creighton in penalty kicks on Friday to advance to the NCAA men’s soccer final for the first time.
The 49ers (17-4-3) and Bluejays (21-3) failed to score in regulation and both of the 10-minute overtime sessions. But Charlotte converted each of its four penalty kicks, compared to one for Creighton.
Charlotte will face top-seeded North Carolina in the final.
Charlotte pulled starting goalie Klay Davis for the penalty kicks and replaced him with 6-foot-3 Gavin Dawson, who blocked one shot. Creighton (21-3) also missed a shot high.
Isaac Cowles had the winning shot, blasting the ball to the right of Creighton goalkeeper Brian Holt.
“I have to give it to Gavin,” Cowles said. “He really stepped up for us. He made that stop to give me the cushion I needed.”
It was only the fourth game of the season for Dawson, who also came in for the penalty kicks in Charlotte’s victory against Connecticut in the quarterfinals.
“We play the players who are the best at each job, and Gavin is very, very good at the penalty stopping,” Charlotte coach Jeremy Gunn said. “He’s the best man for the job.”
Creighton, which had won 11 consecutive games, controlled the match throughout the first half. The Bluejays outshot Charlotte 7-2, and most of the action took place on the 49ers’ end of the field.
But Davis made three saves, including one during an early flurry of three shots directly in front of the goal, and Creighton had two shots bounce off the crossbar.
“We had a great rhythm going in the first half. It was just that our shots didn’t fall,” Creighton coach Elmar Bolowich said. “We had some opportunities. The crossbar got in the way a couple of times. That’s just part of the game. When that happens, you have to find a way to get another opportunity. It just wasn’t meant to be today.”
Creighton’s offense became stagnant as the second half progressed, and the Bluejays did not have a shot on goal in either of the overtime periods.
“We lost it a little bit in the second half, and (Charlotte) did a very good job defensively,” Bolowich said.
Charlotte, which will face top-seeded North Carolina or UCLA in the final, is. attempting to become the first unseeded team to win the championship since UC Santa Barbara in 2006.
“This isn’t a Cinderella team. We’ve been playing great soccer for a number of years,” Gunn said. “There are a lot of teams out there that are every bit as good as this group, but we have a resolve and a determination.”