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Men's Soccer: Late goal lifts UCI past Tar Heels

Santana scored with two seconds left in regulation to send Anteaters to NCAA round of 16 at Maryland.

November 24, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
(Courtesy of UCI…)

UC Irvine men's soccer coach George Kuntz called it a leak in the dam.

Anteaters senior forward Christopher Santana thanked God for the opportunity.

And UCI senior defender Tarek Norad said though definitely not a miracle, that Santana's dramatic game-winning goal in the NCAA second-round playoff game against visiting North Carolina on Sunday created an amazing feeling that he and his teammates had simply earned.

By whatever description, the difference in the 1-0 triumph, the second NCAA Tournament win in four postseason trips for the Anteaters, was as dramatic as they come.

Santana's finish — a low blast from the top of the 18-yard box that whistled inside the left goal post on a carom that followed Michael Sperber's service into the Tar Heels' zone — came with two seconds left in regulation.

The victory gave No. 12-seeded UCI (15-4-3) a berth in the quarterfinals, in which it will visit No. 5-seeded Maryland (14-3-5) on Sunday. Maryland earned its eighth straight win Sunday by topping second-round foe Providence, 3-1.

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Its second NCAA tournament win and its second trip to the round of 16 (2008 marked both firsts), extended UCI's winning streak to eight games and upped its unbeaten streak to nine contests. It also validated what has been a cosmic turnaround from a dismal 2012 season in which the Anteaters lost 10 one-goal games, including five in overtime contests. In those losses, the average game-winning goal came in the 91st minute (teams play 90-minute regulation games). It was as if UCI's 2012 team had been relegated to experience late-game agony by the soccer gods.

"It's a dagger," Kuntz said of Sunday's goal, which, like any late game-winner inspires a gamut of emotions. "Your heart drops all the way to your feet when that happens. Last year, everyone had some against us. But we've turned that around. I had my heart at my feet last year. This year, I wear my heart here [pointing to his chest]."

UCI barely avoided overtime, in which it is 0-1-3 this season, by scoring its 12th goal of the campaign in the final 15 minutes of a second half. The most it has scored in any other 15-minute increment is five.

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