Forty-five minutes after the final whistle, Ernest Bawa sat alone in the six-yard box on the right end of Dorrance Field.
Legs crossed and jersey draped around his shoulders, the senior midfielder soaked in the moment after his final game as a Tar Heel. Following a loss in the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament, he and the rest of his fellow Tar Heels were left with thoughts of what could have been.
UNC’s season came to an end Saturday, falling to Oregon State, 1-0. After a postseason run that saw the Tar Heels reach the ACC Championship and earn the third overall seed in the NCAA tournament, offensive struggles that had plagued the team during the regular season reemerged to crush the team’s hope of reaching the College Cup for the first time since 2020.
Throughout the regular season, the Tar Heels struggled with coming out flat in the first halves of games. In the postseason, though, getting out to an early lead was one of UNC’s keys to success, scoring a total of seven first-half goals throughout the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
On Saturday, this was not the case. UNC was dominated in the first half, out-possessed 66 percent to 34 percent. North Carolina only produced two shots, neither of which were on goal. Head coach Carlos Somoano said the lackluster opening frame was a product of UNC’s slow-paced play.
“Oregon State had the game going at a good tempo,” Somoano said. “And we did not adjust.”
The inability to control possession would come back to bite the Tar Heels in the 36th minute. Driving on the left side of the 18-yard box, Beaver forward Vicente Castro passed the ball around UNC senior defender Riley Thomas. Oregon State's Dante Williams received the pass and booted the ball into the top right corner of the goal.
Despite an all-out effort to find the tying goal in the second half, which Somoano described as “some of the best soccer we’ve played all year,” the Tar Heels were unable to do so.
Somoano compared Saturday’s contest to a game against Syracuse back on Oct. 6, which the Orange won 1-0 off a first-half goal. After that game, junior midfielder Andrew Czech echoed Somoano’s words from Saturday.