The bench cleared. Players cheered, celebrated and embraced each other. Fans in the stands of WakeMed Soccer Park erupted and clapped. But the elation was not displayed by the North Carolina women’s soccer team. The Tar Heels had just been dealt their first loss of the season by Florida State in the ACC Championship final.
It was a battle of the unbeaten teams. Someone had to be placed in the loss column for the first time this year, and after giving up three goals early, it was UNC who had to play catch-up the entire match.
They were down, not out. But even a last-minute rally late in the second half that saw UNC score twice to cut the deficit to a manageable 3-2 margin just wasn’t enough. So, it was the Tar Heels who were silent as time expired. It was the Tar Heels who sat with their heads down, resting their hands on their knees as the Seminoles felt the glory of being ACC champions, defeating UNC for the second time in three years.
Too little, too late.
The old adage encompasses all of the bitter tastes and hard feelings that come from a near comeback late in the second half. The Tar Heels were able to break the shutout with a Rachel Jones goal in the 58th minute, and they were even able to put themselves in a position to push the match into overtime off a Brianna Pinto goal in the 88th minute. Still, they just had too little, too late on Sunday afternoon.
But it came down to the wire.
“If there’s something in the Tar Heel DNA it’s certainly that (not giving up),” head coach Anson Dorrance said. “We’re not quitters. We do fight to the bitter end.”
In fact, it’s a tradition.
“Everyone thinks the thing that I’m the most proud of is the fact that we’ve won 22 national championships and a similar number of ACC regular seasons and ACC championships, but it’s not,” Dorrance said. “I think my favorite statistic is for 603 games in a row, we either won it, tied it or lost it by one goal.”