[NORTH CAROLINA-UCLA]In one of the best Men's College Cup matches ever played, No. 1 seed North Carolina twice came from behind to tie No. 13 seed UCLA, 2-2, and go on to win their semifinal, 3-1, in a shootout before 9,623 fans in Hoover, Ala. The Bruins got golazos from Ryan Hollingshead and Kelyn Rowe, but the swarming Tar Heels came back on goals by Rob Lovejoy and All-American Billy Schuler, the second goal coming after Enzo Martinez hit the post, the third time UNC was stopped by the woodwork.
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The game almost didn't go to a shootout. As the clock expired in the second overtime, Kirk Urso, playing in his fourth College Cup, fired a bouncing shot that UCLA keeper Brian Rowe miraculously managed to tip wide.
Rowe has no such luck in the shootout as Urso and senior defender Drew McKinneyput UNC ahead 2-0 and Ben Speas, who won the College Cup with Akron in 2010, fired a curling shot that gave Rowe no chance.
UNC keeper Scott Goodwin stopped UCLA captainAndy Rose and Kelyn Roweand Fernando Monge pushed his attempt wide left at 2-1 to set the stage for Speas' winner.
Coming into the game with eighth straight shutouts, UCLA had the better of the play in the early going and took the lead in the 17th minute when Hollingshead gathered a pass from Chandler Hoffman and found open space at the top of the box to fire a blistering shot that dipped under the crossbar.
UNC had its chances as Brian Rowe was called upon to parry Schuler's shot off the crossbar in the 37th minute and Speas hit the far post just before the half.
Speas went to work in the second half, racing down the left wing and fired in a cross that Lovejoy put away to even the score in the 56th minute.
The Bruins pulled ahead again in the 74th minute when Kelyn Rowe, the former U.S. under-20 starter being used off the bench, finished off a give-and-go with Chandler Hoffman with a delicate chip over Goodwin.
With five minutes left in regulation, though, Martinez fired a blistering shot from 35 yards out that ricocheted off the far post across the face of the goal, where the charging Schuler slid the ball into the goal for his 16th goal of the season.
North Carolina, which finished with a 22-16 edge in shots, will be playing in its third final.
It won the championship in 2001 when it beat Maryland, 2-0. It fell to the Terrapins, 1-0, in the 2008 final.
UNC had lost in the semifinals the last two seasons. Speas was on the Akron team that beat UNC in a shootout in 2009, and Louisville defeated the Heels, 2-1, on a goal in the last minute of regulation in last year's semifinals.
Dec. 9 Hoover, Ala.
North Carolina 2 UCLA 2 (North Carolina wins 3-1 on penalties.) Goals: Lovejoy 7 (Speas) 56, Schuler 16 (Martinez) 85; Hollingshead 3 (Hoffman) 17. K.Rowe 6 (Hoffman) 74
North Carolina -- Goodwin, McKinney, Hedges, Okwuonu, J.McCrary, Urso, Martinez, Schuler, Lopez, Speas, Lovejoy. Subs: Murphy, Gafa.
UCLA --B.Rowe, Singh, Sofia, Matchett, Williams, Wiet, Rose, Monge, Hollingshead, Hoffman, Arreola. Subs: Chavez, K.Rowe, Munoz, Raynr.