CARY, N.C. — The North Carolina Tar Heels made a change earlier this season to highlight two of their most talented players, fullbacks Julia Ashley and Emily Fox.
Anson Dorrance, now in his 42nd year as the head coach of the Tar Heels, typically likes to run a 3-4-3 system, but moved to a four-person back line to feature the versatility and talent of those outside backs and give them space to run.
And run they did — a lot — during the NCAA Women’s College Cup semifinal Friday night against Georgetown. In the second period of golden goal extra time, a run-of-play featuring that began with Fox and ended with Ashley resulted in the game-winning goal for the Tar Heels, who topped the Hoyas 1-0 at WakeMed Soccer Park in front of an announced crowd of 10,439 fans.
North Carolina will attempt to win its 23rd national championship Sunday against Florida State, which beat Stanford 2-0 Friday to advance. The Seminoles are one of just three teams that beat the Tar Heels this season.
The winning goal came when Ashley finished off a box-to-box blitz by slicing a low, hard shot into the back of the net. Her teammates embraced her and rapper Petey Pablo’s 2001 ballad “Raise Up” — in which he declares “this one’s for North Carolina, come on and raise up” — played over the stadium’s loudspeaker.
“I can’t say that I planned that one,” Ashley said after the game. “Honestly, I really want this. I want this so much and my whole team does too. I’m just trying to get us there. Right before the second overtime, I said to my team, ‘Someone is going to finish this off for us in the next 10 minutes. Who’s it going to be?’
“I was that player today, I guess.”
Fox set up the goal after holding off an attack from the Hoyas late in the second period of extra time. Fox had the ball at her feet with no pressure from the opponent. The sophomore dribbled down the field, then fed a ball to Ashley in the midfield. Ashley carried the ball for a moment, then passed to Brianna Pinto, who quickly gave it back after Ashley made it past a defender.
Ashley then moved into the penalty area and dished the ball off to Rachael Dorwart. Again, she quickly gave the ball back to Ashley, who fired the shot past Georgetown keeper Lauren Gallagher.
It was the sixth goal of the year for the senior from Verona, N.J.
“That’s the right back that’s finishing a chance inside the penalty box. That’s incredibly rare at any level of the game,” Dorrance said. “That was basically a counterattack with our two outside backs.”
Despite taking a 0-0 scoreline deep into the second period of extra time, the game was anything but boring. North Carolina’s fullbacks charged up the field all night in an effort to create chances, and Georgetown put its counter attack to work to give the opposition a few headaches.
The first half featured a strong effort by both sides, whose players made it clear they were hungry to score goals. Many moments in the early minutes of the game happened in the Tar Heels’ final third, which the Hoyas relentlessly attacked. Georgetown got off three shots, but just one from Kyra Carusa was on-frame.
In the second half, North Carolina attacked more. The Tar Heels finished with 20 shots on the night, with eight landing on-target. They also lofted in 15 corner kicks. Georgetown held North Carolina off, but Hoyas coach Dave Nolan had to make an unexpected substitution with about seven minutes left to play in regulation.
While going after a ball that seemed to be drifting out of bounds, starting Georgetown keeper Arielle Schechtman collided with a North Carolina player and crumpled to the turf.
The senior from San Diego — who has 47 career clean sheets for Georgetown and is a finalist for the 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the best player in college soccer — was subbed off for Gallagher, a junior from Pearl River, N.Y., who had just five collegiate appearances.
Schechtman remained on the sideline with crutches, but Nolan said after the game it was “too early to tell” the severity of her injury.
“We had to deal with some adversity, obviously, when Arielle went down,” said Nolan, who called his injured keeper the best in the college game. “But we knew what we had coming on the field. Lauren stepped up and made a great save on the penalty kick, boosted her confidence and handled the rest of the game like a veteran. I think after the penalty save, she seemed to get taller.”
That penalty came about 90 seconds after Gallagher entered the match, set up by a foul on North Carolina’s Madison Schultz just inside the box. Taylor Otto stepped up to take the kick for the Tar Heels. A sophomore from nearby Apex, N.C., Otto had connected on two-of-three penalty attempts this season. This was the Tar Heels’ chance to win in regulation.
Otto jogged up to the ball and fired a hard shot high and to the left. Gallagher, just 5-foot-9, leaped into the air and swatted it away with her mitt.
“I just guessed right,” Gallagher said. “I was in the right spot at the right time. It was a well-hit shot, but luckily I was there.”
When the game drifted into extra time, the Tar Heels used their speed and depth to gain an advantage. North Carolina used seven substitutes in the match in an effort to keep their top players fresh.
“I really felt that, as the game wore on, we got better and better and more determined,” Dorrance said. “The more the game wore on, the more in control of the game we were.”
On Georgetown’s last attempt at a goal, it threw most players forward. So when Fox left North Carolina’s penalty area with the ball at her feet, the Hoyas were outnumbered trying to race back to defend.
“We committed numbers in because we wanted to try a win the game, and then they cleared it and it went the other way,” Nolan said.
— NCAA Soccer (@NCAASoccer) December 1, 2018
It was the first loss of the year for Georgetown, the 2018 Big East Champions.
Not only will the Tar Heels have the opportunity to make the 23rd addition to their trophy case on Sunday, but they’ll have a chance to extract a bit of revenge. North Carolina fell in the ACC title game to Florida State just weeks ago on the same field at WakeMed Soccer Park.
Said Otto: “We want to show that we’ve grown.”