It had been 369 minutes and 22 seconds since the last time the North Carolina women's soccer team let a ball cross its own goal line. Four games had been played — all shutouts and all wins.
And after UNC's 0-0 tie against Duke Thursday night in Durham, it has been 479 minutes and 22 seconds since a ball has crossed the Tar Heel goal line.
The team's stellar defense has been the storyline of the season. Only two teams have scored a combined four goals against UNC. It's been a combined effort between an elite backline — consisting of veterans Lotte Wubben-Moy, Emily Fox and Lois Joel, plus first-year starter Maycee Bell — and two starting-caliber goalies, Marz Josephson and Claudia Dickey.
"It's a huge shoutout to our backline," sophomore midfielder Brianna Pinto said. "They've been so solid for the last couple games. They really started to gel, they know where everyone's going to be, they communicate and they go hard at the tackles."
The decisive play of the game didn't show on the scoresheet. In the 105th minute of the game, Fox, a junior defender, made a game-saving tackle when a Duke forward had gotten free in transition in front of the UNC goal.
"If I'm being honest, I was pretty panicked," Fox said. "But I knew that I had to obviously win that ball, or if she shot it I had to block it, or else it probably would have been a different result for the game."
That's nothing to say for the rest of the team — North Carolina's fast pace means that while defenders have opportunities to score, forwards and midfielders sometimes have to haul it down the length of the field.
Pinto, the team's leading scorer this season, dropped positions after the first half. After not getting her foot on the ball much, she moved from the 10, attacking midfield, to the 8, the box midfield.
Lower down on the field, she had an opportunity to get the ball earlier and try and make plays. Shifting down also put her in position to make a potentially game-saving play late in the second half, running half the length of the field to knock the ball away from a Duke forward before they could get a shot off.
"I know that at the end of the day, it's going to pay off, every sprint we make," Pinto said. "If that's the difference between winning or losing or tying, I'm willing to do it every time."
Unfortunately for the Tar Heels, their in-state rivals don't like giving up goals that much either. The Blue Devils had given up just seven goals on the season coming into the game, and have now tied 0-0 three games in a row. And what happens when an immovable object meets, well, another immovable object? They tie.
"I have to congratulate Duke. They were outstanding," head coach Anson Dorrance said. "They fought like devils, to coin a phrase, they were outstanding. We couldn't break them down."
Even though North Carolina controlled possession for most of the second half and both overtimes, shots couldn't find the back of the net. The closest the team came was a shot by from sophomore forward Rachel Jones in the first overtime, with a shot that was just wide of the far post.
Playing in a 5-3-2, Duke hunkered down. UNC couldn't break the Devils despite outshooting them 18 to 6, with eight shots on goal to Duke's three.
"Obviously we have to figure out a final ball and a finish," Dorrance said. "My guess is, if anyone wants to make it hard for us, they're going to come out in a 5-3-2."
Not many other teams play as conservatively as Duke does. The Tar Heels will have time to figure out a way to score in those situations. Moving forward though, they still have those 479 minutes and 22 seconds to hang their hat on.
"Coming out with a clean sheet is the standard," Pinto said.
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