As North Carolina men's soccer warmed up before its contest at N.C. State on Friday, a collection of bleachers behind the Tar Heels’ goal began to fill with Wolfpack students — it was the ‘Red Terrors.’
The standing-room-only section aided a thunderous environment, as students tossed around red chalk and shouted banter to the beat of a continuous drum in an action-packed 2-2 draw.
The Terrors' presence was noticeable from the start, as the chants of “I believe that we will win” filled Dail Soccer Field seconds into the tilt.
“I feed off that energy,” redshirt first-year goalie Andrew Cordes said. “It’s tough in the first few minutes and warmups — you notice it. But once you get in the game, you're dialed in.”
In the contest's early goings, however, it was the Wolfpack that appeared more locked in.
After both teams exchanged lengthy possessions in their attacking ends, N.C. State earned a free kick steps outside of North Carolina’s goal box in the 13th minute. On the set piece, graduate midfielder Conor Kelly’s boot twisted around a wall of Tar Heels and into the back of the net.
As the Red Terrors erupted, junior forward Ernest Bawa motioned for his teammates to remain calm.
“I was never worried (about trailing),” he said. “Obviously we don’t want to give up goals, but we’ve (come back) before and we’ve seen our plan work.”
The Tar Heels soon found the equalizer. Off North Carolina’s first free kick of the night, graduate defender Til Zinnhardt tapped in a deflected ball off the hands of Wolfpack goalie Lucas Hatsios.
The transfer from Tulsa’s first goal as a Tar Heel marked the fourth different North Carolina player to score in UNC’s last three contests, a substantial difference from UNC’s season-long struggles in the attack.
“Overall we’re getting better (on offense) — trust is a big thing,” Bawa said. “We’re trusting the game plan now and trusting the coaches. But most importantly, we’re trusting our teammates.”
The Tar Heels’ belief in each other would be put to the test in the 40th minute, as another defensive error granted N.C. State a free kick. The curling cross found the head of defender Pablo Pedregosa, helping the Wolfpack retake the lead.
The Red Terrors' energy returned, and with it, rang the same chant predicting an N.C. State victory.
Even so, head coach Carlos Somoano knew his team would respond.
“There’s no question we have a die-hard mentality and we never give up,” he said. “That’s a positive and definitely something we have in our pocket.”
Out of the break, North Carolina found a connection that had been brewing for almost two weeks.
Bawa and Akeim Clarke have spearheaded the front line of UNC’s offense since the two became full-time starters together in early October. The cohesiveness between the junior forwards has shown glimpses, but hadn't broken through until Clarke’s cross was finished off by Bawa midway through the second period to even the score.
“Akiem’s my best friend, we do everything together,” Bawa said. “We’ve been talking about how we need to start finding each other and trying to lead the attack. These past couple of weeks, we’ve been working on getting the ball to each other.”
Bawa’s goal silenced the Terrors for good, but overcoming the raucous crowd in a draw left the Tar Heels dissatisfied. As the ACC season winds down, only victories can propel teams into more favorable matchups in the conference tournament.
“We’re showing a lot of spirit and a lot of heart,” he said. "As a coach, you want your kids to be rewarded for their efforts but you only deserve it if you play discipline and play smart.”
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