Backup keeper comes up clutch
Dawson enters game late, makes key saves to lift Charlotte
HOOVER, Ala. -- Unseeded Charlotte stunned second-seeded Creighton in the first NCAA Men’s College Cup semifinal on Friday evening at Regions Park Stadium, advancing 4-1 on penalty kicks after a scoreless match. Charlotte plays top-seeded North Carolina at 4 p.m. EST on Sunday for the championship.
Senior defender Isaac Cowles found the net on the fourth and final penalty kick to send the 49ers to its first College Cup final.
Just like the quarterfinal upset of third-seeded UConn, the 49ers substituted Gavin Dawson for Klay Davis for the penalty shootout. The 6-foot-3 senior, who is three inches taller than Davis, spent his first two seasons at Denver and has seen action in four matches this season.
Dawson stopped Kris Clark’s attempt, as the Bluejays missed their second and third attempts.
“Everybody looks at the last shooter and says,” Wow, what a good PK or whatever,’ but Gavin (Dawson), our keeper, has stepped up twice now for us in PKs,” Cowles said. “He made that stop to give me the cushion. He came up to me and said, ‘Hey, no pressure, just have fun.’ And I smiled and said, ‘You know what, good point.’ ”
Sophomore midfielder Tyler Gibson, junior sub Isaac Caughran and junior midfielder Donnie Smith also converted their attempts.
In 2009, the 49ers lost to UNC Wilmington on PKs in their opening NCAA tournament game. Eight current players saw action in that game with Caughran the returning leader with three shots in the contest.
“We suffered some heartbreaks on penalties a couple of seasons in a row,” Charlotte coach Jeremy Gunn said. “When we came back, the first time we trained in January, we talked about working on penalties and getting better at something. These guys have certainly done that.“
Creighton carried the possession in the first half, but the Charlotte offense picked up midway through the second half. Smith, Evan James and Giuseppe Gentile all had their chances, and Gibson and Anthony Perez were blocked with a little more than five minutes left in regulation.
But after 90 minutes of regulation and two 10-minute overtimes, no one had found the net. Davis had four stops, and Creighton standout keeper Brian Holt had three.
In the program’s seventh NCAA tournament and second College Cup appearance, this group has an opportunity to make history. The 1996 team also reached the national semifinals.
“We had a players’ meeting a couple of weeks ago and we just talked about how the past two seasons have ended and we haven’t been happy – we’ve been very, very unhappy,” said senior captain and defender Charles Rodriguez. “We set out a goal of getting to the NCAA tournament and let’s finish the season and let’s be happy about it.”