RALEIGH, N.C. - Eighth-ranked North Carolina scored four second-half goals, including three in the last 12 minutes of play, to rally past NC State 4-1 in women's soccer action Thursday night before 1,413 fans at Dail Soccer Field. Kealia Ohai sparked the Tar Heels' torrid second half comeback with two goals and an assist while Amber Brooks added a goal and an assist and Ranee Premji had two assists.
With the win, North Carolina finishes the regular season with a 10-4-2 record and a 6-3-1 mark in the ACC. NC State closes its season at 5-14 and 0-10 in the ACC.
With the victory, the Tar Heels earned the No. 4 seed in the 2012 ACC Tournament and will play host to fifth-seeded Virginia Sunday at 1 p.m. in the quarterfinal round at Fetzer Field. The two teams played to a 2-2 tie during the regular season meeting on September 16 at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, Va.
Carolina outshot the Wolfpack 28-7 and had a 12-2 advantage in corner kicks but that almost wasn't enough to pull out the win until the UNC attacking pressure finally wore down the Wolfpack in the final 30 minutes of the match.
Playing its final regular season home game of the season, NC State came out of the gates on fire and scored on a counterattack in the sixth minute of play. The goal came off the foot of Caroline Gentry who got behind the Tar Heel defense on the right side of the pitch and deposited a first touch blast from 15 yards out into the lower left side netting. It was her second goal of the season and it came off an assist by Cheyenne Spade.
Following the NC State goal, the Tar Heels had the better of the run of play over the next 15 minutes, earning six corner kicks and taking eight shots, but they were unable to grab the equalizer. NC State goalkeeper Victoria Hopkins came up with three saves in that span. She smothered a 30-yard free kick off the foot of Amber Brooks less than two minutes after Gentry's goal and in the 21st minute Summer Green had a great chance as she got behind the NC State defense but Hopkins knocked Green's shot away at the last second for a corner kick.
NC State had a couple of chances to go up 2-0 later in the first half. A foul on Carolina on the left side of the field set up a dangerous free kick for State but Gentry's header went wide right on the redirection. Forty-one seconds later, Gentry had another good chance to score as she got free on the right side of the penalty area but Carolina goalkeeper Adelaide Gay hugged her left post and cut off Gentry's shooting angle, making the a save from close range.
Carolina had two great chances to tie the game in the final minutes of the half but Hopkins stopped a shot by Ohai from the eight-yard line in the 36th minute and Crystal Dunn's shot with eight seconds remaining in the half missed the right post by less than a yard.
Trailing at halftime 1-0, the Tar Heels faced the task of doing something they had not done to date in the 2012 regular season. UNC entered the game with and 0-4 record in games in which its opponent scored first and 0-3 in games in which it trailed at halftime. In fact, UNC had not won a game in which it had fallen behind since September 16, 2011 when Carolina rallied past this same NC State team 5-1.
In the first 20 minutes of the second half, the Tar Heels controlled possession but were settling for shots from distance. But in the 66th minute, the Tar Heels broke through for a beautiful goal by Kealia Ohai, her fifth tally of the season. Senior Alyssa Rich played a ball forward to Crystal Dunn, who had moved up to a midfield role from the defense in the 60th minute. Dunn's service to Ohai was precise and Ohai took the ball in stride and she struck a cross cage shot from the right side of the penalty area just inside the left goal post at the 65:08 mark.
With the game tied at 1-1, the game was just started to get interesting. On a flurry in the box in the 67th minute, Hopkins made a stop on a close range shot by Dunn and on the rebound Rich seemed to have a sure goal tucking inside the right post but Hopkins slid and kick saved it over the end line. On the ensuing corner kick, UNC's Kelly McFarlane was pulled down in the penalty box and the Tar Heels were rewarded with a penalty kick. Rich stepped to the spot but her shot was high and the game remained tied at 1-1 at the 67:34 mark.
Just over a minute later, NC State's Cheyenne Spade got behind the Tar Heel defense after a misplayed ball in the midfield. Satara Murray made up distance on a dead sprint to catch the Wolfpack forward was whistled for taking down Spade just a yard outside the penalty area. Murray was issued a yellow card and the Wolfpack had a great chance to take the lead but Sharon Wojcik's free kick sailed high.
With action going end to end at a furious pace, Crystal Dunn had her shot in the 71st minute smothered by Hopkins at the final second. The ball was close to going over the goal line but remained in play, denying the Tar Heels the lead. Just a few minutes later, State appeared that it was going to grab the lead back. After a corner kick by Meagan Proper, Sydney Sawaya had a shot in the box that was heading inside the left post but was cleared off the line at the last second by a UNC defender. Seconds later, Sharon Wojcik had a shot from 20 yards out that Adelaide Gay had to knock down. She scrambled to regain the ball before a Wolfpack player could pounce on the rebound.
From that point on it was all Carolina. In the 79th minute, Ranee Premji forced a turnover and served a long ball ahead to Kealia Ohai. The speedy striker from Draper, Utah got behind the entire NC State defense and beat Hopkins to the ball at the 25-yard line. She dribbled to her left and then finished into the open net at 78:32 for her sixth goal of the year.
It took four more minutes for the Tar Heels to extend their lead. Kealia Ohai pushed a short corner to Ranee Premji whose service to the box was headed into the back of the net by Brooks at point blank range. The goal came at 82:34 and was her sixth goal of the campaign.
At 86:53, Carolina appeared to boost its lead to 4-1 but Maria Lubrano was called for being offside, negating her fine finish. It was less than a minute later, however, that UNC took a three-goal lead as Summer Green tallied her team-leading seventh goal of the season. Amber Brooks served the ball ahead from inside the midfield line to Green, who stayed onside and beat the defense to the ball. Green handled the ball in stride and beat Hopkins from the top of the box at the 87:47 mark.
The Tar Heels finished in a tie for second place in the ACC standings with Maryland, Wake Forest and Virginia behind top seed Florida State. The Seminoles had 24 points in the standings while Maryland (No. 2 seed), Wake Forest (No. 3 seed), North Carolina (No. 4 seed) and Virginia (No. 5 seed) all finished with 19 points.
First round ACC Tournament matchups on Sunday at 1 p.m. have #8 Boston College at #1 Florida State, #7 Miami at #2 Maryland, #6 Duke at #3 Wake Forest and #5 Virginia at #4 North Carolina.