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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC fights South Carolina to 1-0 win

Redshirt freshman Josh Rice is taken down by South Carolina defender Danny Cates. The match featured seven yellow cards, four by South Carolina, and two red cards that were split between the two squads.
Redshirt freshman Josh Rice is taken down by South Carolina defender Danny Cates. The match featured seven yellow cards, four by South Carolina, and two red cards that were split between the two squads.

It wasn’t exactly how Robbie Lovejoy thought he would be making his first appearance in a game. The freshman was forced into action after the Tar Heels lost Michael Farfan, their senior striker and second leading-scorer.

Then Lovejoy struck.

The speedy freshman blocked a clearing kick by the South Carolina sweeper, tracked down the ball and poked the ball into the net’s lower left corner.

“The ball was up in the air and I was just like, ‘Don’t mess up,’” Lovejoy said.

He didn’t mess up, and his goal would prove to be the difference in the Tar Heels’ 1-0 victory against South Carolina.

“I coached him for four years on my club team, so I know what he can do on the field,” coach Elmar Bolowich said. “Playing him wasn’t the issue, it was more just preserving his redshirt year which right now is out the window.”

In a game where nothing seemed to be going right for UNC, Lovejoy’s goal was a welcome respite for a team that lacked any offensive spark. For more than 75 minutes, neither side was able to penetrate the opposing defense in a physical game that saw a combined nine cards handed to the teams.

It wasn’t for lack of effort either. Scoring opportunities were scarce for both sides.

“It’s definitely frustrating, but it also is an opportunity for our team to get better in small spaces and forces us to think about the game,” junior Kirk Urso said. “But all credit to Robbie for making something out of nothing.”

Despite having the advantage in possession, UNC had very few shots on goal during the first half. Part of this was due to the defensive strategy of the South Carolina back line, which dropped extra men to nullify the Tar Heel attack. Instead of picking apart the defense, UNC often settled for distance shots.

“There was so much going on and then so little going on,” Bolowich said. “We had a hard time getting into a rhythm early; we played slow and didn’t take command of the match.”

Part of the reason for UNC’s lackadaisical state on offense was the injuries to seniors Farfan and Eddie Ababio, as well as a red card to forward Alex Dixon. Another reason was the Gamecocks’ physical play.

“That’s just the nature of the game,” Urso said. “When things get tight, everybody gets a little more emotionally involved.”

After Dixon’s red card in the 73rd minute, the game began to pick up pace. South Carolina was forced to push more men on offense, which opened more space for the UNC attack to operate.

“Their team was getting tired, and they weren’t tracking as well,” Urso said. “I wish we could have put a few more of those chances away because we had some that should have been goals.”

After Lovejoy’s goal, he and freshman forward Carlos McCrary had open chances to push the UNC lead farther. But a blowout win wasn’t in the cards for the Tar Heels.

They were simply happy to walk off the field with a win.

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