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Clemson's Paul Clowes (6) battles for the ball from Notre Dame's Jeffrey Farina (23) during the Men's Soccer Semifinal at WakeMed Soccer Park on Friday, Nov. 14, 2014, in Cary, N.C. #ACCmsoccer (Photo by Sara D. Davis, theACC.com)
Tigers prevail on penalty kicks to slip past top-seeded Notre Dame
CARY, N.C. (theACC.com) – Clemson had not lost a match since Oct. 7, and the Tigers refused to let that streak end in the semifinals of the Atlantic Coast Conference Men’s Soccer Championship.
The fourth-seeded Tigers drew Friday night’s match against top-seeded Notre Dame at 1-1 on Bobby Belair’s goal with just under two minutes remaining, then outscored the Irish 5-4 on penalty kicks to advance to Sunday’s 2 p.m. title game at WakeMed Soccer Park.
“We’re absolutely ecstatic to be advancing,” Tigers fifth-year head coach Mike Noonan said. “Notre Dame is one of the best teams in the country and they played that way tonight, but I thought our team played toe-to-toe with them and probably statistically outplayed them.”
Clemson (10-6-3), which reached the ACC finals for the first time since 2001, will face the winner of Friday night’s match between second-seeded Syracuse and sixth-seeded Louisville. Defending national champion Notre Dame (11-4-4) will await Monday’s NCAA tournament selections and still anticipates a high seeding.
Junior T.J. Casner provided Clemson with its decisive penalty kick after the teams remained deadlocked at the end of two overtime periods. Goalkeeper Chris Godlack, who entered the game before the penalty kicks, made three saves to set the Tigers up to advance. He outdueled Irish keeper Patrick Wall, who played brilliantly with six saves in regulation and the overtime periods.
The Tigers outshot Notre Dame 19-11 for the match, led 13-2 on corner kicks and had seven shots on goal to the Irish’s two.
Notre Dame scored 25:52 into the match, when forward Leon Brown took a pass from midfielder Evan Panken and placed his seventh goal of the season into the left corner of the net from eight yards out. The assist was Panken’s career-high sixth of the year.
Brown, who also scored the first goal in the Fighting Irish’s 3-0 quarterfinal win over Virginia last Sunday, has four goals and four assists in his last six matches.
“I think getting a second goal early right after that goal would have been key,” Brown said. “We could have been able to manage the game better. It’s tough. We had a lot of chances, more quality chances than they did to score. It’s kind of disappointing not to get that second goal and cruise from there.”
It appeared the 1-0 lead might hold up for the Fighting Irish as each side missed several scoring chances in the second half and the match wound down to its final two minutes. But Belair broke through for the Tigers with 1:59 left, taking a pass from fellow midfielder Paul Clowes and heading a shot home to tie the match and force overtime.
“This team has full belief and confidence in ourselves, and I don’t there was moment where anyone on the team, even the guys on the bench, thought that we weren’t going to get the equalizer,” Belair said “Great ball by Paul … he put it right on my head, and I couldn’t miss from there.”
Both teams were in familiar territory. Last year’s ACC Championship semifinal round at Germantown, Maryland, saw both Clemson and Notre Dame go extra minutes against their respective opponents but fail to advance. The Tigers lost to Maryland in sudden death, while the Irish fell short against Virginia on penalty kicks.
Last Sunday’s quarterfinal round saw Clemson advance by outlasting fifth-seeded Wake Forest on penalty kicks after two overtimes.
Clemson got three shots on goal in the first overtime period Friday night, the last on a runner from the right side by Manolo Sanchez that all but found the net after Wall deflected it off the post. The score remained deadlocked at 1-1 following both 10-minute overtime periods, setting up the PK shootout.
Notre Dame coach Bobby Clark, who saw his team regroup from last year’s ACC Championship elimination to capture the NCAA title, hopes to see history repeat itself. If that happens, the Fighting Irish will be back at WakeMed Soccer Park – site of the 2014 NCAA Men’s College Cup – in mid-December.
“No two seasons are the same, but we want to win three games to get back to WakeMed,” Clark said. “If we look at it that way … We’ve got to win these three games and come back and see if we can do a better job when we come back here.”