During his 22-year tenure as North Carolina’s soccer coach, Elmar Bolowich earned 280 victories. He picked up another one Saturday night at Fetzer Field with his new team, Creighton.
The Blue Jays got a first-half goal from Timo Pitter after a UNC turnover, and senior goalkeeper Rory Sparrow made it stand up for a 1-0 victory in the third round of the NCAA Men’s Soccer Championship.
The loss ended the season for fifth-seeded UNC (15-2-3) and sent the 12th-seeded Blue Jays (19-3-0) to the quarterfinals for the fourth time in the last five years, Bolowich’s exact tenure. Creighton will face either fourth-seeded Akron or SMU, who play at 4 p.m. Sunday. UNC was seeking its seventh quarterfinals berth in the last eight years.
The third meeting all-time between the two schools, who split decisions in the late 1990s, was probably more fitting for a College Cup, or at least an NCAA quarterfinal, as they were ranked Nos. 1-2 for a good part of the season. Creighton was 15-0 and No. 1 in the nation for eight weeks before losing three of its final five games before the NCAA tournament. UNC was ranked No. 2 nationally behind Creighton for four weeks.
UNC outshot Creighton 21-9, including the last nine over the final 37 minutes, and enjoyed an 11-1 advantage in corner kicks. But the Tar Heels had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.
“They put the pressure on us for most of the game,” Bolowich said. “We were a little bit fortunate with their shots. We hung in. … It didn’t always look pretty, but at this stage of competition you can almost expect that. It’s just survival and advancement and move on.”
“There’s only one significant statistic in soccer, goals scored,” said UNC coach Carlos Somoano, who was an assistant to Bolowich for nine years before succeeding him in Chapel Hill. “I think that’s why Creighton is a very good team. Very composed and very dangerous, maybe more so than many teams we’ve seen.”
Creighton broke on top 1-0 in the 38th minute when the Tar Heels ran into some bad luck. An attempted clear by UNC defender Jonathan Campbell inadvertently struck UNC’s Raby George and fell to Pitter at the top of the penalty area.
Pitter turned and beat UNC goalkeeper Sam Euler with a low shot that seemed to handcuff Euler as it changed direction. It was Pitter’s 10th goal of the season.
“I got the ball played back to me,” Campbell recalled. “I didn’t clear the ball well enough, (and) hit it off Raby’s back to their player. He drove down the right side. I tried to block it and got a toe on it. It threw Sam off.
“It’s a tough one to swallow.”
Euler, a redshirt senior, was making his fifth start of the season in place of redshirt freshman James Pyle, who left last Sunday’s 2-1 win over Coastal Carolina with a head injury after 35 minutes. Euler had one save against Creighton, but it was a diving stop in the 54th minute on the nation’s leading scorer, Fabian Herbers.
UNC had a good scoring chance in the final minute of the first half, but David October’s free kick from 25 yards just skimmed the crossbar. The best chance in the second half came in the 80th minute, when Alan Winn’s shot at the far post was tipped away by Sparrow for one of his four saves.
Although the Tar Heels controlled the game in the second half, outshooting Creighton 14-6, they couldn’t crack the Bluejays defensive wall and often settled for shots from distance.
“It certainly wasn’t desperation,” Somoano said. “Players have to trust their instincts. Certainly to score a goal requires composure and very quick, split-second movement. Sometimes it just doesn’t go in. Tonight it wasn’t the quality. We didn’t come up with the play.”