North Carolina handles emotions, Blue Devils in overtime
DURHAM — Senior captain Jordan Gafa unleashed a strike from the right corner of the box that rustled the netting on the left side of the goal less than two minutes into overtime at Koskinen Stadium.
Before the game-winner hit the soggy turf in the goal, Gafa was already in full sprint headed toward a sea of light blue and in the process of removing his jersey.
Moments before, the rest of the North Carolina men’s soccer team had seen that result coming.
“What I saw? I saw stars. I saw a goal coming,” sophomore Jordan McCrary said about the final play. “I knew he was going to get that.”
Gafa’s strike ended what was a physical and emotional contest. The Blue Devils and the Tar Heels combined for 29 fouls and the referee flashed five yellow cards.
Four of those yellows went to Duke’s Chase Keesling and Ryan Thompson, disqualifying them from the closing minutes of the game and giving North Carolina a two-man advantage.
“There was just a lot of fouls. I’m very, very glad we had a referee (who) was not going to reward a team, us included, when we fouled … We paid the price the other day for a little bit of recklessness,” coach Carlos Somoano said in reference to Andy Craven’s red card in the first half against Wofford on Tuesday. “Albeit, I don’t think Andy (Craven) intended what happened against Wofford, but you saw there was a little recklessness in what he did, and you can’t be reckless.
“I think that what a lot of it was — kind of reckless play.”
Somoano said the rivalry atmosphere often amps up the energy level and can lead to that type of careless physical play.
But the Tar Heels had an answer for Duke’s intensity. Though the game was in Durham, it had the feel of a home game for the Tar Heels.
Somoano purchased tickets for more than 300 fans to come and fill the seats at Koskinen and, despite a downpour of rain, the Tar Heel fans took him up on that offer.
“That was unbelievable,” Cameron Brown, who scored the equalizing goal in the 87th minute, said. “It makes such a huge difference emotionally but psychologically as well. Mentally, you know that people are here to support you and the whole team by wearing that light blue, and to do it against Duke is unbelievable.
“But I have a feeling they would do it against anybody.”
In the face of a stormy night and a fiery Duke mindset, the Tar Heels exemplified the patience of a well-disciplined team.
North Carolina handled going down a goal after Riley Wolfe netted one in the 59th minute and waited for the aggressive Blue Devils to beat themselves. Within the next 20 minutes, they had done just that.
“Even though it was big ‘Duke,’ our rivals or whatever, we stepped to it like it was any other game and just played our way,” McCrary said. “We kept ourselves emotionally really well. We didn’t receive those cards like they did. We kept our minds straight and did what we needed to do.”
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