The two first-half scoring plays might not have been executed exactly the way North Carolina drew them up.
But if the first two goals of UNC’s 4-0 ACC tournament victory against North Carolina State were diagrammed, they would look very similar.
Though one came off a free kick and the other did not, both assists came in from the right side just outside the 18-yard box.
In the 13th minute, Kirk Urso fired a free kick across the face of the goal. Matt Hedges was in the area but backed off, and Jordan Gafa received the cross.
Gafa made one touch back to his right to clear out a lane to the goal and slid a right-footed shot into the lower left corner of the net. The goal, coming on just the second shot of the game for the Tar Heels, gave North Carolina the early 1-0 lead.
“I was just trying to put it in. Gafa’s great in the air, and Hedges is great in the air,” Urso said. “I just try to find those guys, put it in a good spot, and Gafa did a great job finishing it.”
Twenty minutes later from the same spot on the right side of the box, Enzo Martinez took a short pass from Urso and lobbed a cross into the box. This time Hedges was the only Tar Heel in the area, and he got just enough on the ball to beat the keeper.
N.C. State’s goalkeeper Fabian Otte came out to make a play on the ball, but Hedges’ forehead got there just a split second before and the ball landed softly behind the line, giving the Tar Heels a 2-0 first half lead.
“A lot of it was his positioning,” Martinez said. “I got the ball from Kirk on the left side, and I took a right touch, and I saw Hedges there … I put it out there, and Hedges did his thing, got the ball, flicked it on. (It was a) great finish.”
The last time these two teams met, UNC had a halftime lead in that game as well but let it slip away in the second half before winning in overtime. Tuesday night, the Tar Heels made sure that didn’t happen again, and they jumped to an early lead on their way to earning the right to play Virginia in the ACC semifinals Friday.
“The last time we played N.C. State we were up 1-0 at halftime, and we felt very comfortable about it,” UNC coach Carlos Somoano said.
“We came out in the second half and were very lackadaisical. We grew from that experience today.”
Nearly four minutes into the second half, Urso fired a long corner, and the ball ended up at the feet of Martinez. After a pair of misdirection steps, Martinez put another cross right in front of the goalie, and freshman Mikey Lopez headed it down and past the falling goalkeeper.
“I cut it back to see if I could get a cross,” Martinez said. “Then I thought if I cut him one more time, it could open everything up because I could see the space right there. And when I did, I put the ball in the box, and Mikey found it.”
Just 29 seconds later, Carlos McCrary hit one from straight away at the edge of the box. Otte mishandled the shot, and it found the net, giving the Tar Heels a four-goal advantage.
That half minute ultimately sealed the fate for the Wolfpack and exemplified the brand of soccer that Martinez said the Tar Heels were trying to play.
“We came out here to prove a point and the best thing about that is, you see a lot of teams … up at halftime, come out and go through the motions,” Martinez said. “We came out and in 29 seconds scored two goals. That’s unbelievable. That shows the type of character we try to put out there.”
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