CARY, N.C. — The third and final meeting this season between North Carolina and Florida State did not disappoint. The Tar Heels built a 3-goal lead in the second half but had to outlast a fierce FSU push to win 3-2 and move on to the national championship game.
The feeling-out process between the ACC juggernauts lasted almost the entirety of the first half, with Florida State earning the better opportunities at goal and UNC defending valiantly. The Tar Heels then turned the pressure around on the Seminoles, scoring three goals in a stretch of 25 minutes on either side of halftime.
Aleigh Gambone opened the scoring in Cary with a quick reaction off a cross that the Seminoles failed to clear. Heather Payne attempted to clear a Maddie Dahlien cross into the box, but shanked her attempt right into the path of Gambone who was standing near the penalty spot. The Tar Heels took the lead just minutes before the halftime break.
After Tori Hansen doubled the lead from the penalty spot, it started to look like a rout was on in Cary. The Tar Heels added a third goal on an Emily Moxley free kick swung into the box that Julia Dorsey tucked away. It was just the second time all season that FSU has allowed three goals. The first time, they managed to eke out a draw against fellow ACC contender Notre Dame. This time, the Seminoles responded through Onyi Echegini, who headed home after a Jody Brown cross.
But it was too little, too late for Brian Pensky's 'Noles.
With the win, the Tar Heels are back in the national championship game where coach Anson Dorrance has been on 26 previous occasions. UNC's all-time record of 21-5 in title games is impressive, but that includes two consecutive losses in 2018 and 2019. The Heels will await the winner of Alabama-UCLA to find out who stands between them and national championship number 22.