HOOVER, Ala. – North Carolina and UCLA both found out it doesn’t take much to go from going on to play for a national title and going home — it took five minutes on Friday.
UCLA seemed headed to an upset win before UNC’s Billy Schuler tied the match with a little over five minutes left. After two overtimes, the Tar Heels won a penalty shootout 3-1 to advance to Sunday afternoon’s College Cup final against Charlotte.
The Bruins (18-5-1) were incredibly close to advancing. Holding a 2-1 lead against the Tar Heels (21-2-2) with five minutes left seemed for safe UCLA considering the Bruins had not allowed a goal in its previous eight games. Nothing suggested that they would not hold on until they didn’t.
Enzo Martinez rocketed a shot on net that Brian Rowe deflected, but was unable to stop Schuler’s shot off the rebound, which forced overtime. Schuler’s score was his 16th goal of the season.
“With five minutes to go, you want to keep them out and bunker in,” UCLA midfield Andy Rose said. “Give [Martinez] credit. It was a good strike from him. And Schuler was quick to follow up.”
“It was a very [disappointing] loss,” UCLA head coach Jorge Salcedo said. “Disappointing to lose when you have about five minutes left in the match and you’re very close to getting in the national championship game and we take a goal at the end of the match the way we did.”
As disappointed as it was for the Bruins, having to come from behind twice was equally maddening for the Tar Heels. Being on the verge of a colossal fall in their fourth consecutive trip to the College Cup weighed heavily on them.
“You look up at the clock and you see the time going down,” Shuler said. “It keeps running through your head. You got to find it. I don’t think we ever stopped thinking we wouldn’t find the equalizer. Then its 10 minutes left, eight minutes left, down to five minutes left.
“Enzo started celebrating before it went in. Luckily I was following the play and was able to put the rebound in. We knew we had to do something quick, and luckily, we found the equalizer. I was glad to get it and just get to overtime.”
Goalkeeper Scott Goodwin set the tone stopping the first two shot and putting pressure on the Bruins. UNC got goals from Kirk Urso, Drew McKinney and Ben Speas to earn the win.
This will be the second time this season for this all North Carolina match. The teams played a rain-shortened exhibition in August that the Tar Heels won 2-1 on goals from Speas and Schuler.
“They’re a very good team,” Schuler said. “[Charlotte] obviously have had a great year. [Our exhibition] was called in maybe the 70th minute. It was a very competitive game. They’re a very good team and I am not surprised they’re here at all.”