Eagles Upset No. 4 UNC, Advance to ACC Semifinals

The Numbers Game, a book about soccer analytics, states the game is about 50 percent luck.

In Boston College’s upset victory over No. 4 North Carolina (11-3-3, 5-1-2 Atlantic Coast) in the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, however, the Eagles’ (8-7-3, 3-3-2) luck doubled.

In the 58th minute, BC keeper Cedric Saladin dove on a loose ball. A split second later, UNC midfielder Andy Lopez kicked at the ball in Saladin’s hands. Saladin responded by shoving Lopez’s head toward the ground with a closed fist for what should have been a red card. The referee, only a few feet away, let Saladin off the hook, however, giving yellow cards to both Saladin and Lopez.

saladin punchFifteen seconds later, Zeiko Lewis had the ball at the top of the box with nowhere to go. Surrounded by defenders, he got off a quick shot that deflected off the head of Colton Storm and rolled past goalie James Pyle for the opening goal.

zeiko game winner UNC closeThese two incredibly lucky moments decided the game. Instead of finishing the game with 10 men and succumbing to the offensive pressure of the Tar Heels, Lewis and the Eagles scored with their only shot on goal to win the game.

The top-ranked Tar Heels started off the game on the front foot, holding a lion’s share of the possession in the opening 45 minutes. BC’s defense held strong, however, bending often but not breaking to start the game, and UNC’s dominance in possession only materialized into three decent chances.

In the 13th minute, forward Zach Wright headed a ball just wide of the post, sending Saladin sprawling. In the 21st minute, Nico Melo sent one of his many dangerous passes through the defense to an oncoming Alan Winn, but Saladin got a good jump on the pass and just managed to slide in for the clearance just outside the box.

The Eagles found their footing when Simon Enstrom entered the game for Ike Normesinu, moving Trevor Davock from forward to winger. With Enstrom playing well in hold up, per usual, BC began to string passes together, at times eight or more leading to a shot.

In the 38th minute, Jelani Pieters led the break for the Tar Heels, laying off to Wright, who beat Younes Boudadi for a dangerous cross, which was headed out for a corner.

Boudadi was a busy man in the first half, constantly clearing the ball at the back and then still getting forward in attack, linking up well with Lewis down the right side.

The second half was more of the same, with BC getting barely any touches on the ball in the opening 10 or so minutes, and the Tar Heels racking up four corners by the 60th minute.

But for all the chances that were coming to the Tar Heels, they couldn’t convert. The play leading up the Saladin yellow card was a dangerous chance. Pieters headed a cross back to to forward Nils Bruening, who chested the ball down in front of goal but took one too many touches before Saladin covered. Numerous other chances were all squandered by the Tar Heels, as they just couldn’t get a foot on a number of loose balls right in front of the net.

UNC whiffSince Carlos Somoano took over as head coach of UNC six years ago, his program has been hailed for its defensive abilities. Since 2011, the Tar Heels have kept a clean sheet in just about half of their games, with 10 this year for Pyle. Prior to Lewis’s goal, UNC hadn’t allowed a goal in 368 minutes of play.

This time around, though, BC was steadfast and disciplined in defense, shutting down the Tar Heels over 90 minutes. Saladin continued to come up with big save after big save for the team, including a diving stop in the 69th minute. Cam Lindley whipped a dangerous free kick from 20 yards out over the wall that was headed for the upper corner, until Saladin got a glove on it and it deflected out off the crossbar.

As time wound down, the Eagles fell more and more in a defensive shell to secure the victory. UNC nearly tied the game in the 73rd, when Melo dribbled into the box, faked out Boudadi, and cut back inside but sent a curling effort with the outside of the boot just wide.

Melo chance for UNCUNC’s last chance came with 1:25 left and an opportunity to put a free kick into the box. The kick was not terribly dangerous, though, and Saladin rose above the crowd to punch the ball clear.

A first signature upset victory of the season, which BC had plenty of last year, came when it mattered most. A loss in regulation or overtime would have dropped the Eagles below .500 on the year, making them ineligible for the NCAA tournament. Now, with three wins out of three, the Eagles are making a claim for an at-large bid.

Earlier this year, the Tar Heels handed BC a 5-0 defeat on the same field. Head coach Ed Kelly noted the importance of early mistakes for his team, as the Tar Heels scored two quick goals in the 32nd and 34th minutes of that game to take the momentum. The second time around, though, BC minimized the mistakes and giveaways at the back and held strong against the No. 1 seed in the tournament.

The defense did its job, and the rest was up to luck.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

November 7, 2016