The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, Dec. 1, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Men's Soccer Advances to Title Game

Winning the game, it seemed, was possible.

Not only was it possible, it happened. And the North Carolina men's soccer team is riding that amazing finish to a spot in the 2001 NCAA Men's College Cup title game.

Despite a bad start, a seemingly insurmountable deficit and yet another mind-numbingly long match, seventh-seeded UNC roared back to beat third-seeded Stanford 3-2 in quadruple overtime Friday night at Columbus Crew Stadium. With the win, the Tar Heels advanced to Sunday?s national championship game at 1 p.m. against fourth-seeded Indiana.

For the second time in three weeks, forward Mike Gell banged home the golden goal for the Tar Heels (20-4). Gell's score beat American two weeks ago in an overtime match in Chapel Hill.

"It was really just a matter of who would make the first mistake," said North Carolina coach Elmar Bolowich. "The game was even, and I tried to tell our guys 'Don't give up now. You have worked too hard to make an error now.'"

After playing an exhausting 45-plus minutes of overtime, North Carolina sealed the match on a play true to its traditionally direct style of play. The Tar Heels' Ryan Kneipper got his head on a long goal kick by Michael Ueltschey and flicked it to a streaking Gell, who then beat two defenders and Cardinal goalkeeper Andrew Terris to the ball.

When Terris slid to try to smother Gell's shot, the forward from Durham chipped the ball over the keeper from six yards out to put the Tar Heels in their first-ever national title game.

"I thought it might be a 50-50 situation, but Gell got there first," Ueltschey said. "When the ball rolled into the back of the net, it was just an amazing feeling."

But Gell's tally was made possible by a two-goal flurry that simply materialized out of the chill Ohio air.

After Stanford's leading scorer, Roger Levesque, put the Cardinal up 2-0 with less than 14 minutes remaining in the match, the Tar Heels' chances were slim, at best.

The offense had stalled throughout much of the second half, generating few chances against a Stanford defense that had allowed just 10 goals all season.

But David Testo's 30-yard, left-footed, arcing goal swung the game North Carolina's way.

With nine and a half minutes left in regulation, Testo's perfectly placed shot to the far post just beat a sprawled-out Terris and gave the Tar Heels the break they needed.

"It was just a huge momentum change," Gell said. "We knew we could do it. We kept fighting and ended up tying it up."

North Carolina's newfound confidence, along with less defensive pressure from Stanford's forwards, allowed the Tar Heels to push the ball deep into the Cardinal's defensive third.

A minute after Testo's highlight-reel score, UNC finally took advantage of a Stanford foul near the box when Noz Yamauchi was pulled down 20 yards right of the goal. He served the ensuing free kick to the box, where David Stokes' head ball hit the crossbar and Gell's rebound header hit a Stanford defender.

UNC midfielder Matt Crawford then swooped in and buried the loose ball in the back of the net to tie the score at 2 and bring the Tar Heels all the way back from near-elimination.

Throughout the match, though, North Carolina struggled to keep up with the Cardinal. A step quicker to free balls, Stanford (19-2-1) controlled the possession in the midfield and its offensive third and was able to free Levesque, midfielder Matt Moses and back Todd Dunivant for long runs during the entire match.

The Cardinal outshot the Tar Heels 30-21, becoming just the second team to take more shots than UNC this year. It was also the most shots North Carolina has allowed this season.

"Sometimes their forwards were chasing us from the back, so we could get out, especially in the first half, and even in the overtimes," Dunivant said. "It created a lot of chances."

The Tar Heels started the match with a flurry of their own and forced a corner kick within the game's first minute. Twelve minutes later, a Crawford corner targeting Stokes bounced out toward the top of the penalty box, and Grant Porter topped a one-timer toward the goal.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

Kneipper stopped the shot with his back to the goal and tried to back heel it to the far post, but the ball dribbled just wide. The Tar Heels would have few offensive opportunities until the end of the match. Soon thereafter, Stanford began to control the tempo of the game, and eventually, the Cardinal broke through in the 25th minute.

A quick give-and-go through the box forced a corner kick, which Stanford's Moses served to Dunivant just outside the 18-yard box. Dunivant settled the ball and ripped a left-footed shot past a diving Ueltschey to the far post to give Stanford a 1-0 lead.

And just more than a minute later, the Cardinal nearly grabbed a two-goal advantage. A Dunivant blast from 30 yards deflected off Stanford midfielder Derek Shanahan at the top of the 18-yard box and trickled past Ueltschey, who dove to stop Dunivant's shot. But the officials ruled that the shot hit Shanahan's arm and negated the goal.

After the Cardinal took its 2-0 lead, the goal-that-wasn't seemed irrelevant. Then again, the last 10 minutes of regulation looked like they would be a mere formality.

"I give our team a whole lot of credit for the kind of heart that they put out," Bolowich said. "To not give up, to come back, to make the unthinkable happen."

The Sports Editor can be reached at