"At that point, you know, you don't get ahead of yourself but it's hard," Patterson said. "You have to remind yourself to stay locked in."
Following the second goal, the Bruins began pushing the pace and playing with more urgency. UNC hung on for dear life.
UCLA's Lexi Wright cut her team's deficit in half in the 80th minute, cleaning up the rebound after UNC goalkeeper Emmie Allen saved a shot from senior forward Sunshine Fontes. UNC dropped a defender back and tried to play more conservatively, but the Tar Heels were quickly beginning to lose composure.
They were no longer controlling possession as they had for the first three-quarters of the game. Each time UCLA pushed into the attacking third, UNC tried to clear the ball instead of holding on to it and building up possession.
"That sort of panic is what made it difficult for us to hold on to that lead," Dorrance said. "And it sort of excited UCLA, because rather than passing balls and keeping possession like we did so effectively in the first half, we started just trying to bang it out. And that just is not the way to try to manage a lead."
Still, UNC seemed like it had done just enough to hold off the Bruins as the clock ticked below one minute. That was until Patterson conceded a corner kick in the final seconds of the game.
With one last chance to keep the championship dreams alive, UCLA's Ally Lemos took the corner from the right side and placed the ball perfectly so that junior forward Reilyn Turner could finish it in the air. After a push on Allen inside the goal area didn't get called, the buzzer-beating score was confirmed.
"I told the team at halftime we're gonna get our chances and we're going to get a set piece tonight," UCLA head coach Margueritte Aozasa said. "I didn't know it would be such a monumental set piece. But that one will go down in history."
The Tar Heels never seemed comfortable in the overtime periods as UCLA rode the momentum of its second goal. Fifth-year midfielder Maricarmen Reyes netted the game-winner in the 107th minute, finishing the rebound off a saved shot from forward Ally Cook.
UNC tried to respond in a last-ditch effort to force penalty kicks, but UCLA wouldn't relinquish its first and only lead of the game. As the final horn sounded, reality sank in and several UNC players sank to the pitch in anguish.
Dorrance knows those emotions well. He's done a whole lot of winning on college soccer's biggest stage, but he's also endured his fair share of losses. That's just the sort of thing you get used to with four decades of sustained excellence.
But Dorrance also knows that experience isn't quite the same for the players on the field. There's a solid chance that he will be back at the College Cup at some point. Many of his players won't have that same opportunity.
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There's a painful beauty to it. The raw emotions of victory and defeat, the uncertainty of what the future holds — those are what keep Dorrance addicted to the college game.
"There's nothing you can really say to assuage (the players') pain," he said. "But, you know, this is what I guess the best parts of athletics are all about. I mean, you really get to feel life in moments like that."
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Lucas Thomae is the 2023-24 sports managing editor at The Daily Tar Heel. He has previously served as an assistant sports editor and summer editor. Lucas is a senior pursuing a major in journalism and media with a minor in data science.