Cary - As the North Carolina men's soccer team shuffled towards the locker room Sunday night, the only sounds were the crunches of cleats on concrete and the distant noises of James Madison’s celebrations.
The ACC runner-up Tar Heels (14-4-1, 6-1-0 ACC) had their season ended prematurely as the James Madison Dukes bested the No. 5 seed Tar Heels, 2-1, in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
UNC walked off the field stunned.
James Madison (14-4-3, 6-2-0 CAA) struck quickly as junior midfielder Manuel Ferriol fired a cannon into the back of the net at the 27 minute mark to give the Dukes an early lead. But the Tar Heels responded less than five minutes later. Senior Nils Bruening sent a pass to a crowd gathered outside the goal, and forward Giovanni Montedeosca emerged to knock it in and tie the game at 1-1. It was the last assist of Bruening’s accomplished career as a Tar Heel.
The next thirty minutes of the game showcased the defensive talent of both teams. UNC and James Madison both rank in the top five of goals allowed per game, and the teams went back and forth trading possessions and coming up with defensive stops.
When was it decided?
In the 68th minute, disaster struck for the Tar Heels. James Madison senior Aaron Ward-Baptiste found separation from his defender and put a shot on the ground that slipped right under Tar Heel goalkeeper James Pyle to put the Dukes up 2-1.
Here, the Tar Heels found themselves in uncharted territory. UNC had not allowed an opponent to score more than one goal all season. They had only played from behind in four games all season long, dropping three of four to their opponents. The slight sense of panic and uncertainty was tangible.
The last 23 minutes of the game saw UNC attack the James Madison defense again and again. The Tar Heels kept the ball at JMU's end of the field for much of the remainder of the game, but never could find the opening necessary to continue their season. When the buzzer sounded, the scoreboard still read 2-1. Senior Alex Comsia hit his knees outside the James Madison goal, knowing he had just played his final game in a Tar Heel uniform.
Who stood out?
The last time the Tar Heels played James Madison was Oct. 3, 2017, when UNC's offense erupted for six goals. In that game, Montedeosca scored two goals. Although the Dukes won a much closer matchup this time around, Montedeosca still found offensive success, scoring the Tar Heels’ only goal of the day.
James Madison moves onto the Sweet Sixteen with their win over the Tar Heels and will play the No. 12 seed Virginia Tech Hokies in Blacksburg.
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