It was a bloody Sunday battle, but after 90 minutes of action at the SAS Soccer Park the Wake Forest men's soccer team walked away with their first ever National Championship following a 2-1 win over Ohio State.
Zack Schilawksi, who grew up five minutes from the 2007 College Cup site, scored the game-winning goal in the 74th minute by taking a cross from Marcus Tracy and firing the center shot from 10 yards out. Tracy had the tying goal in the 66th minute, finishing a run from sophomore Cody Arnoux.
"It's an exciting moment," Wake Forest head coach Jay Vidovich said. "We've taken a lot of grief over the years about dying at the end of the season. To have Wake fans here and former players from my first year here is just an unbelievable feeling. It's very gratifying."
The NCAA title is the eighth national championship for Wake Forest athletics. The university also holds three titles in field hockey (2002, 2003, 2004), three titles in men's golf (1986, 1975, 1974) and baseball (1955).
For seniors Julian Valentin, Pat Phelan, Brian Edwards and Alimer Gonzales, the game also marks the end of their college careers. Everything seemed to come full circle with the guys, as Phelan, Gonzalez and Valentin's first collegiate game was against Ohio State in the 2004 season opener where Wake Forest took a 2-0 win in Columbus. It was then redshirt-freshman's Edward's first collegiate start.
With the win, No. 2-seed Wake Forest finishes the year at 22-2-2, the most wins ever for a single season. The loss set the fifth-seeded Buckeyes at 17-4-5 for 2007.
Though Wake Forest held an advantage in possession through the first half, the Buckeyes dominated the shot-ratio, taking 12 shots to WFU's three.
In the 11th minute, Demon Deacon goalkeeper Brian Edwards, who was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Defensive Player, blocked a close-range shot by Geoff Marsh and defender Lyle Adams cleared the net when OSU's Andrew Magill attempted to capitalize on the rebound.
Wake Forest had barely caught its breath from the near miss when Roger Espinoza scored on OSU's next possession in the 13th minute. Espinoza grabbed a Buckeye shot that bounced off the post for his fourth goal of the year.
"We came out fired up in the first half," OSU defender Eric Brunner said. "We respected Wake Forest as an opponent, but we definitely didn't fear them. When we got our first goal, we were real confident going into halftime that we could hold the shutout."
And statistically speaking, Brunner's confidence in holding Wake Forest wasn't too far-fetched. Sunday's match marks the first time in 2007 that the Deacons have come back to win a match after trailing at the half. Other games where Deacons had a goal deficit going into the locker room include the 1-1 tie with Elon on October 2, their first season loss at Boston College on October 27 (1-0) and the 2-1 ACC Championship loss to Boston College on November 18.
But the Deacs weren't about to raise the white flag at the half. Wake Forest held the Buckeyes shotless and fired nine missiles of their own. After making a couple of charges for the net, sophomore Cody Arnoux finally got the open look he'd been waiting for and flicked the ball to Tracy who was waiting in the center of the penalty box. The goal knotted the match in the 66th minute.
The goal was Tracy's third of the 2007 College Cup. His incredible scoring efforts earned him the tournament's Most Outstanding Offensive Player award.
With the goal, the crowd of 8172 became electric and continued to light up the field as the North Carolina sun was setting. The goal and the enthusiasm of the Deacon fans helped trigger a momentum shift that sent the Buckeyes scrambling to regain footing.
A little over ten minutes later Zack Schilawski netted the game-winner after teaming up with Marcus Tracy. The 78th minute zinger was Schilawski's ninth goal of the season.
"Marcus did the work and the ball bounced my way. I saw the keeper coming after it a little bit and I knocked it in," Schilawksi said.
There were 37 fouls and six yellow cards issued during the 90 minutes, including four cards in the second half. The final caution was called on Espinonza, when his foot met defender Julian Valentin in the face in the 81st minute. Valentin received 30 stitches for cuts on his cheek, forehead and nose.
After the game, the bloodied Valentin was stretched out in the training room receiving the stitches while sporting a grin from ear to ear.
"Yeah sure it hurts," Valentin said. "But you know, right now, I really don't care. We're national champions!"