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The Daily Tar Heel

Opening minutes prove fatal for Tar Heels in 3-2 ACC Championship loss to FSU


FSU freshman forward Jody Brown (10) heads the ball in Sahlen's Stadium in Cary, NC on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020. The Seminoles beat the Tar Heels 3-2 to win the ACC Women's Soccer championship.

Five minutes and 21 seconds. 

That's how long it took for Florida State to topple the No. 1 North Carolina women's soccer team on Sunday in the women's soccer ACC Championship game, 3-2. The Tar Heels hadn't allowed more than one goal in a game the entire season, and in just five minutes and 21 seconds, they allowed two. 

The first goal punched the Tar Heels in the mouth just a minute and 19 seconds in. A corner kick from LeiLanni Nesbeth knifed through UNC's defense, which inexplicably left three Seminoles effectively uncovered right in front of the goal — all it took was a little tap on the chest from tournament MVP Clara Robbins to draw first blood. 

Instead of responding, the Tar Heels stumbled in a daze for several minutes, while the Seminoles attacked. Yet again, it was Robbins with a wide-open shot just outside North Carolina's box on the set-up from Nesbeth, which she promptly fired past UNC goalkeeper Claudia Dickey. 

"They came out, they punched us in the face early," UNC head coach Anson Dorrance said. "We were knocked back, and it was very difficult for us to get back in the game in the first half." 

Those two goals were the first time North Carolina's defense had faltered twice since the quarterfinals of last year's NCAA Tournament. The young backline had been a bright spot for UNC in a most unusual season, keeping the sheet clean while the offense struggled with the loss of senior forward Alessia Russo. Yet when the lights were brightest, the combination of Emily Fox, Abby Allen, Julia Dorsey, Maycee Bell and Paige Tolentino was either unable or simply unprepared for the start of Saturday's match. 

The next 39 minutes came and went — North Carolina eventually settled into its rhythm, trying to see if its high press could disrupt Florida State's possession game — but it was too late. The death blow had been dealt before the Tar Heels could even get their feet under them.

UNC might have been able to save itself, and its former season, with a strong second-half performance. Greater deficits have been overcome — and the Tar Heels were the Goliath of women's soccer all season, grinding out wins with their furious attacks, high press and strong defense.

Instead, North Carolina yet again allowed a goal in the opening minutes of the half— the first time the Tar Heels had been scored on three times since the 2018 ACC Championship game, also against Florida State.

North Carolina did manage to score two goals in the remaining 43 minutes — the first on a penalty kick by junior forward Rachel Jones and the second with just 79 seconds left in the game from junior midfielder Brianna Pinto. 

"I was worried about the quality of the pressure they were bringing for a while," Florida State head coach Mark Krikorian said about the second-half push from UNC. 

But ultimately, the fight North Carolina summoned wasn't enough to close the wound that the Seminoles had opened at the start of the game. 

The Tar Heels were ranked No. 1 in the country and undefeated going into the game. They were Goliath.

But the thing about being Goliath is, when you take on your David (if the No. 1 seed and undefeated Seminoles could ever be considered a David), you end up face down in the dirt at the end of the fight. 


@dthsports |

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