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The Daily Tar Heel

Men's Soccer Survives Scares, Wins NCAA Title

After playing in three consecutive overtime matches, North Carolina's men's soccer team beat favored Indiana to grab its first NCAA crown.

But its end, its oh-so-sweet finale, yielded mementos easily grasped and cherished: an appearance on national television, a trophy, a moment in time never to be forgotten.

After enduring all the sweeping curves and dizzying detours along the way, one thing is certain. It wouldn't have been the same without the struggle.

Despite fighting through three consecutive overtime matches -- including a triple-overtime win against Fairleigh Dickinson in a national quarterfinal and a quadruple-overtime victory against Stanford in its semifinal match -- UNC put together its finest performance of the season and defeated Indiana 2-0 to win the 2001 NCAA Men's College Cup.

The game, played on Dec. 16 before 7,113 at Columbus Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, was the first national championship appearance for the Tar Heels, who finished 21-4.

"You couldn't ask for any more than that," said senior defender Danny Jackson. "If we got to the final four and had lost to Stanford, people could've said, 'We've had a good season; it's been a great ride.'

"But we knew we had the ability, and we had the drive and the determination and the character to pull it through."

North Carolina did much more than merely pull through in the title game. The Tar Heels scored an early goal on a Ryan Kneipper header and were able to set the tempo for much of the remainder of the game with their stifling defensive pressure.

Add a late Jackson penalty kick after freshman Marcus Storey was pulled down in the Hoosiers' 18-yard box, and UNC had dominated an IU team looking for its sixth national championship.

"I didn't think they could hold the lead and hold up with extra people back, but they did, and more credit to them," said IU coach Jerry Yeagley.

The win capped a weekend highlighted by numerous storylines. There was the homecoming of senior back Chris Leitch, who grew up in nearby Baltimore, Ohio. There was Jackson's persistence in taking 18 hours during fall semester in order to graduate early and devote his time to training for the MLS.

And then there was the emergence of an underclassman-filled offense that scored three goals against a Stanford team that had allowed 10 all season and posted two versus an IU club that had given up just seven.

But perhaps the most intriguing part of the Tar Heels' title was the adversity the team faced en route to its championship date with the Hoosiers.

The difficult road UNC would have to take was foreshadowed in its Dec. 2 home match against American, a team North Carolina needed overtime to beat 1-0.

It continued with the near-debacle a week later against Fairleigh Dickinson, when the seventh-seeded Tar Heels gave up a penalty kick goal with 31 seconds left, allowing the Knights to tie the score.

Three overtime periods later, the Knights scored again. But this time, it was on themselves, and UNC advanced to the final four.

"We feel unlucky," said FDU coach Seth Roland after the game. "There's no other way to put it."

The Tar Heels, on the other hand, were on a roll.

As if the two OT games weren't enough, the team set itself up to lose its match to Stanford, falling behind 2-0.

But UNC started on a two-minute scoring binge when junior forward David Testo blasted a 30-yard bender past Stanford keeper Andrew Terris.

When Matt Crawford found the back of the net off a rebound on a free kick, the score was tied and the Tar Heels had life once again.

And though it took 45-plus minutes to cap the victory with Mike Gell's chip over a charging Terris, UNC advanced.

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Soon, their road would come to an end. And with that finish came the title.

"Absolutely amazing," Jackson said of the championship season. "You couldn't write a better story."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.