And even despite these premonitions, the Tar Heels nearly did lose Saturday afternoon at Fetzer Field. But in a game filled with a slew of odd twists and turns, North Carolina survived yet again and will next play in the 2001 Men's College Cup, the final four of collegiate soccer.
Noz Yamauchi's free kick in the 126th minute -- that's right, in the third overtime period -- deflected off FDU defender Brian Romero's head and past Knight goalkeeper Vytautas Lenkutis to give UNC a 3-2 win and a trip to Columbus, Ohio, for next weekend's College Cup. The seventh-seeded Tar Heels (19-4) will face third-seeded Stanford, a 1-0 winner against St. Louis on Friday night.
"It was a strange game to win 3-2 when you analyze the game," said UNC defender Danny Jackson. "It's just relief -- pure relief. We had everything on the line, and I had a great feeling we were going to win it. I just didn't know how we were going to do it."
After dropping behind 1-0 on an early counterattack goal by the Knights' third-team All-American forward, Aaron Paye, North Carolina roared back in the second half. Playing without injured defensive midfielder Grant Porter, who sat out with a pulled groin, the Tar Heels had to adjust to a slightly different lineup that featured Logan Pause in Porter's spot and Matt Crawford in Pause's attacking midfielder position.
At the beginning of the second half, though, UNC coach Elmar Bolowich began subbing in many of his bench players. He shunned his usual reluctance to move players in and out of the games and instead searched for an offensive spark.
"I feel like we needed to serve more to the far post, and I told Ryan (Kneipper) and all our forwards that we needed to make runs to the far post," Bolowich said. "And then we got the two goals, off of service, off of headers with Ryan.
"I was very uptight, because I didn't feel like I should be the one making the mistake with a substitution or something. So, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself, actually, to do the right thing."
And soon, the changes paid off. Kneipper headed two separate crosses by Lenkutis in a five-minute stretch to put North Carolina in position to reach its first final four since 1987.
The first, and game-tying, goal came on the Tar Heels' 20th shot of the match. In the 73rd minute, freshman midfielder Raymond Fumo sent an arcing service from near the left sideline, 40 yards from the FDU goal.