Nov. 28, 2008

 

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Sophomore midfielder Ali Hawkins made sure her rebound shot found the back of the net in the 102nd minute as fourth-ranked North Carolina defeated 14th-ranked Texas A&M 2-1 in double overtime in the quarterfinals of the 2008 NCAA Division I Women's Soccer Tournament at Fetzer Field. A crowd of 2,686 looked on as Hawkins' initial shot was turned away of the goal line by Aggie midfielder Rachel Shipley before Whitney Engen flicked the ball back to Hawkins, who powered her game-winning shot from eight yards out into the lower left of the goal.

With the win, the Tar Heels improve to 24-0-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament quarterfinal games and the Heels now find themselves in the College Cup semifinals for the 24th time in the 27-year history of the tournament. UNC will play the winner of the UCLA-Duke quarterfinal game next Friday at either 4:30 or 7 p.m. at Wake Med Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. in the NCAA semifinals. The Bruins and the Blue Devils play each other Saturday at 10 p.m. EST in Los Angeles, Calif., for the right to move on and play the Tar Heels.

Friday's game between the Tar Heels (23-1-2) and the Aggies (18-5-1) found neither team gaining much traction until the late stages of the match. But a frantic final 21 minutes produced three goals as UNC defeated the Aggies for the third time at Fetzer Field in the NCAA quarterfinals (2002, 2006, 2008). It was also the sixth successive game between the Tar Heels and the Aggies to be decided by a single goal with UNC going 5-1 in those games since 2003. Three of those six matches have gone to overtime.

The two teams were feeling each other out for most of the first half with neither team able to find much of a rhythm. The Tar Heels had three of their five first-half shots in the opening 11:26 of the match but the Aggie defense was making sure the Heels found good looks hard to come by. In fact, three of UNC's five first-half shots were blocked by the defense.

The Aggies had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 41st minute as a cross by Rachael Balaguer from the left side found Laura Grace Robinson on the far post. Robinson's shot on the doorstep was turned away at point-blank range by UNC goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and the game went to halftime scoreless.

At halftime, UNC made its usual goalkeeper change with Anna Rodenbough going on in relief of Harris. The first shot of the second half was by UNC's Casey Nogueira at the 50:35 mark and it resulted in Kelly Dyer's first save of the match for the Aggies.

At 53:37, Texas A&M's Whitney Hooper got behind the Tar Heel defense and was alone in the right side of the penalty area. But with UNC's Kristi Eveland closing on her quickly, Hooper attempted to push the ball far post but Rodenbough was there for the save. Less than a half minute later, the Tar Heels had a stellar look at the goal only to be denied by the cross bar for the first of what would be many times in the match. A service by Hawkins was redirected by Allie Long to Courtney Jones, who was stationed just inside the left post. Jones' shot hit the underneath of the cross bar but did not break the plane and the ball was cleared away by the Aggie defense.

In the 73rd minute, the Aggies had a free kick from 30 yards out after a foul on the Tar Heels. Brianne Young hit a hard shot on frame but fortunately for the Tar Heels Anna Rodenbough was well positioned to make the save.

The Tar Heels had three corner kicks in a span of 1:03 in the 77th and 78th minutes and the third resulted in another great scoring opportunity. Jones received the final of the three corner kicks from Yael Averbuch, but Jones' shot hit the cross bar at 77:48. Jones was able to get the ball back and she had another shot but Dyer turned it away at 78:05.

In the 81st minute, the Aggies' gained their first and only corner kick of the match. They made the Tar Heels pay for it. After the corner was pinged around, A&M's Rachel Shipley gained possession on the right side and slipped a pass to teammate Brianne Young. Young then sent a through ball to Laura Grace Robinson who found herself alone at the four-yard line. Her shot eluded Rodenbough and put the Aggies up 1-0 at 80:26. It was Robinson's ninth goal of the season.

Robinson's goal broke a string of 752 minutes and 15 seconds of shutout soccer by the Tar Heel defense. UNC had not allowed a goal since 68:11 of a match against Florida State on October 30.

The Tar Heels were able to answer the Aggies' goal less than a minute and a half later. After a foul on Texas A&M, Ali Hawkins sent a dangerous free kick into the box where Allie Long's shot that hit the cross bar, UNC's third shot to hit the bar in a span of 27 minutes and 31 seconds. The Tar Heels had better fortune this time around as the shot caromed off the bar to the left side of the goal mouth where Courtney Jones sent the rebound home from the three-yard line. It was Jones' 13th goal of the campaign. She also had the game-winner against the Aggies in UNC's 3-2 regular-season win over the Aggies on August 29th.

UNC had two great opportunities to end the game before regulation was over. Casey Nogueira's shot from 22 yards out flew just high of the bar at 86:32. Then with just over a minute to play, Averbuch had a corner kick that Allie Long redirected inside the right post. But an Aggie defender was there to make a team save on the goal line with 1:11 to play.

Carolina had the only shots of the overtime periods. In the first overtime, UNC had two shots and two corner kicks but the game remained tied at 1-1. At 92:16, Tobin Heath had a great chance to end the game as a long cross from the right side found her at the far post but Dyer snuffed out the chance, redirecting the ball over the end line for a corner kick.

At the start of the second overtime, UNC head coach Anson Dorrance reconfigured his lineup, throwing Yael Averbuch in at forward in place of Courtney Jones and moving Hawkins up to the attacking center midfield spot.

Just over a minute in, UNC earned a corner kick. Averbuch sent a ball which found Hawkins in the penalty area. Her initial shot was cleared off the line by A&M's Rachel Shipley but Carolina's Whitney Engen was able to redirect the rebound back to Hawkins who pounced on the ball and powered a shot from the eight-yard line into the lower left of the goal to end the match in the most dramatic of fashions.

UNC improved to 71-3-1 in NCAA matches at Fetzer Field and 98-7-1 all-time in NCAA games. Carolina is now 6-1-1 all-time in NCAA Tournament overtime matches.