Sept. 20, 2009
DURHAM, N.C. - Facing a No. 1-ranked team for only the second time in school history didn't faze the Auburn soccer team on Sunday afternoon as Auburn's defense would bend but not break, playing defending national champion North Carolina to a 0-0 draw at the Duke Nike Classic.
"Today we saw what Auburn soccer is capable of," Auburn Head Coach Karen Hoppa said. "It was an absolutely incredible effort. We defended with absolutely everything we had. All the backs and Amy Howard getting the shutout against the number one team in the country, it doesn't get much better than that."
North Carolina fired off 40 shots to Auburn's four but the play of Auburn's defense, especially that of freshman goalkeeper Howard, helped Auburn earn the draw with the program all other women's soccer teams are measured against.
Howard established a career high by making 12 saves in the match, all of which were equally impressive, though it may have been her game-saving, diving stop of an Alyssa Rich shot in the 96th minute that propelled the team to the tie.
"Our defense played a great game. If I made a mistake or misplayed a ball they were right there to back me up. It was just a great team effort," Howard said.
"This is a great result. Ties are always funny in soccer and usually I hate them. This is one of those times where I say a tie is a great result. This is going to help us down the road when the NCAA committee is looking at us and if we can play like that against the number one team in the country, it has fully prepared us for SEC play," Hoppa said.
Of North Carolina's eight shots in overtime, only Rich's shot in the 96th minute went on frame as the Auburn backline of Lizzie Hamersly, Julie King, Heather Havron and Christine Schweer put the clamps down at the top of the 18, forcing mostly long-range shots during the extra time.
Coming out of the break with just 15 shots, North Carolina put Auburn's defense on its heels for the majority of the second half and overtime, taking 25 shots after intermission but each time Howard and company were up to the task. In the 55th minute it was Auburn making a pair of splendid plays in the box as Howard snuffed out an Ali Hawkins header and Heather Havron cleared out a cross from inside the six.
Howard was again called upon for a pair of great stops in the 70th minute, stopping a Rich point-blank shot to the post and a Tobin Heath shot from just inside the 18.
Casey Nogueira nearly made Auburn pay for a Lizzie Hamersly yellow card just inches outside the 18 but her free kick blistered the crossbar and bounced down and out, keeping it scoreless with 3:55 remaining in the match.
Auburn was outshot 17-1 in the second half but the stout defense sent Auburn (3-2-3) to its fourth overtime match of the season and second of the weekend.
North Carolina (7-0-1) has not allowed a goal since its season-opening 7-2 win over No. 3 UCLA, a string of 653 minutes, but Rebecca Howell nearly ended the scoreless string in the match's fourth minute following a Katy Frierson corner kick. Her shot from 10 yards out to the opposite post beat all but one North Carolina defender, who was able to clear the chance out.
North Carolina was inches away from scoring off of a corner of its own in the 14th minute as Jessica McDonald headed an attempt towards the post that Stephanie Fransoso stopped. The rebound was sent right back in by North Carolina but this time it was Howard thwarting the chance. McDonald had a second header following a corner eight minutes later that Howard was perfectly positioned on for her fourth of six saves of the half.
Caitlin King's pass into the box in the match's 24th minute was just past the outstretched leg of Ashley Marks but Chelsea Yauch was able to control the pass, putting a shot on frame that North Carolina's Ashlyn Harris was able to stop for her only save in the match.
McDonald had a pair of chances to score in the 30th minute but her first shot was stopped by Christine Schweer and the second by Howard. North Carolina finished the first half with 15 shots while Auburn was held to just three.
The overtime match was the first for North Carolina this season and its first since downing Texas A&M, 2-1, in double-overtime in the quarterfinals of last season's NCAA Tournament.
The last time North Carolina had been held scoreless through a regulation match was Sept. 4, 2008, a 1-0 loss to Notre Dame.
North Carolina had outscored its opponents, 22-2, heading into the match.
The tie was Auburn's second in the last two seasons against a top five team, also playing No. 5 Virginia to a 1-1 draw on Sept. 7, 2008.
Auburn opens up Southeastern Conference action next weekend, traveling to Mississippi State for a 7pm match on Friday, Sept. 25, and then to Ole Miss for a 2pm match on Sunday. The match at Ole Miss will be televised live on ESPNU.