After 110 scoreless minutes, the North Carolina women's soccer team advanced to the ACC Championship final by defeating Duke 7-6 in penalty kicks.
In the opening minute, Duke forward Michelle Cooper raced behind the Tar Heel defense down the right wing and sent a low cross that was deflected away for a corner. On the ensuing attempt, Duke’s pass sailed over the crossbar without much of a threat.
UNC had its first opportunity minutes later, when senior forward sent a pass in the box to Emily Colton. The sophomore midfielder prepared to take a shot but collided with a Duke defender and fell to the grass. No foul was called, and the match remained scoreless.
Both attack groups struggled for the next several possessions, as neither team attempted a shot in the first 15 minutes. With both sides playing a high line of defense, the opposing attack groups tried to counter by sending passes over the top, yet each try was shut down by the quick reaction of the defenders.
In the final 30 seconds of the first half, a turning point came when Duke midfielder Maggie Graham was sent off with a red card for knocking down UNC junior midfielder Talia DellaPeruta. Although both teams entered the break scoreless, the Tar Heels held a one-player advantage for the rest of the match.
In the second half, Duke dropped the entire defense back into a 4-4-1 formation to mitigate the loss of Pierce, which gave the Tar Heels a number of chances in the attacking third. Less than 10 minutes in, Sentnor tried to capitalize with a low attempt, but it was saved by Duke’s Ruthie Jones.
For the next 15 minutes, the Blue Devils’ back line continued to crowd the box – often keeping as many as eight players back on defense. Although the Tar Heels attempted to break through with a series of long shots, none of them posed much of a threat, and the game remained scoreless heading into the final 20 minutes of play.
In the 73rd minute, DellaPeruta attempted a tackle with on the left wing and knocked down a Duke forward, which drew a yellow card. However, DellaPeruta was already booked for her previous altercation at the end in the first half, so the foul was automatically upgraded to a red card.
Both sides played 10-on-10 for the rest of the match, which opened up the middle parts of the field. Neither team could convert, though, and regulation ended in a scoreless stalemate.
In the first extra period, opened by playing a one-touch pass to Colton just inside the box. Colton took one dribble and fired a shot that was kick-saved by Jones to keep the teams level heading into the second extra period.
With less than five minutes to play, Cooper back-heeled a touch just in front of the net and was knocked to the pitch. As the stadium looked to the main referee for a whistle, none was given. After an ensuing Patterson attempt rang off the post with 90 seconds to play, the final time ran off the clock and both sides headed to a penalty shootout.
Who stood out?
In a game that featured little offensive activity, the match hero would be decided during the penalty kicks. With two key saves, redshirt first-year goalkeeper Emmie Allen came through to give the Tar Heels the win.
When was it decided?
After a chaotic final minute of the second extra period, the suspense lied in the series of penalty kicks.
Duke lined up to shoot first, and Allen made the first save for UNC. Senior defender Tori Hansen made the first kick for UNC, which was followed by a Duke conversion and successful strike by graduate midfielder Rachel Jones to give the Tar Heels a 2-1 lead.
Duke made its next attempt, but Sentnor responded with another make. The teams traded conversions once again, and UNC led 4-3.
Cooper continued the Blue Devils productive run, but the match rested on the final attempt by sophomore midfielder Bella Sember. However, her attempt was saved, and the teams were tied at four goals apiece.
Duke and UNC made their next attempts, which made it 5-5.
In the seventh round, Duke converted its sixth-straight shot. For UNC sophomore midfielder Ruby Grant stepped into the box and her low attempt just skimmed past Jones to continue the thriller.
The Blue Devils next shot was a low attempt to the bottom left corner, but Allen came through for her second save of the shootout. With the game on the line, Moxley drove her shot to the right side to find the back of the net, which gave the Tar Heels a hard-fought win.
Why does it matter?
The match marked the Tar Heels first extra time contest of the season. With the win, UNC will compete for its first ACC Championship title since 2019.
When do they play next?
North Carolina advances to the ACC Championship final on Sunday, where the team will face the winner of the ensuing Florida State vs. Notre Dame matchup. The final will begin at noon.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.