Irish upset Wake Forest, advance to ACC championship
Daniel O'Boyle | Thursday, November 12, 2015
After falling in semifinal penalty shootouts the past two years, No. 9 Notre Dame reached the ACC championship game for the first time, beating No. 1 Wake Forest on Wednesday night, 1-0, thanks to a second-half goal from freshman forward Thomas Ueland.
Irish head coach Bobby Clark said his team’s cohesion allowed Notre Dame (11-3-5, 4-2-2 ACC) to come through on such an important stage, when teams typically play tight games, against a highly-rated opposition.
“You always know that there’s never a lot in big games,” Clark said. “It’s always difficult to know if you can do it. It’s often just little things — a special goal, a special save. I think tonight it was just a very good team performance. People who watched would have to agree, I think.”
After a scrappy start to the game with some early fouls, Wake Forest (15-2-2, 6-0-2) twice came close to an early breakthrough, but Notre Dame junior goalkeeper Chris Hubbard, with the help of the woodwork, kept the sides level. Freshman midfielder and ACC Offensive Player of the Year Jack Harrison whipped in a free kick from the corner of the box, which was met by the head of sophomore midfielder Jon Bakero. Bakero, however, couldn’t keep his header down and it cannoned back off the crossbar. Fewer than five minutes later, Bakero slid a pass through the entire Notre Dame defense and directly into the path of junior midfielder Jacori Hayes, but Hubbard extended an arm to tip the ball onto the crossbar again.
The best Irish chance of the first half came with only 20 seconds left in the period. A cross from junior forward Mark Gormley found graduate student defender Max Lachowecki unmarked with only the goalkeeper to beat, but his diving header went just over the crossbar.
After a slow start to the second half, in which a shot from Harrison wide of the post was the strongest goal-scoring opportunity, Notre Dame scored what proved to be the winning goal. After a shot from senior midfielder Patrick Hodan deflected off a defender, Notre Dame benefited from a shaky clearance from sophomore defender Kris Reaves, a lucky bounce and the goalscoring instincts of Thomas Ueland to finally put something between the sides. Clark said Ueland has made a habit of coming up with goals when the Irish need them in his first year.
“It was really just a scramble in the box,” Clark said. “Patrick Hodan hit a shot and it ricocheted to Thomas Ueland and he just did a great job, as he’s done all year, and got a vital goal. He started off the first weekend scoring the overtime goal against Indiana, and then he chipped in when we needed him today again, just a nice little finish.”
The Demon Deacons had chances to equalize, as Harrison struck a shot from an angle over the bar, and junior midfielder Ian Harkes shot just wide from a free kick 30 yards from goal, but the Irish held on for the victory. Clark said he was impressed by his team’s accomplishment in beating such a talented opponent.
“They’re a very good team, they were No. 1 in all the polls,” Clark said. “So to be able to go into their house, in front of 5,000 people — a full house — and win was a tremendous feat by this group of players.”
Clark said making it to the ACC championship game for the first time is a great accomplishment for the Irish, especially after coming close twice before.
“We’ve been eliminated on penalty kicks in the semifinals the last two years, so this is really nice this year to actually make it to the final,” Clark said. “We’ve actually made it as the higher seed, so we’ll play the final in South Bend. I really hope we can get a lot of people to come out for that.
“It’s always nice to win trophies, and this is the one trophy that our seniors haven’t won.”
Clark also said he was impressed by the crowd at the game and believed his team played to the occasion.
“It was a fantastic atmosphere: There were 5,000 people at the game,” Clark said. “Five thousand people for a Wednesday night game, I think shows the attraction that Notre Dame soccer has across the country. There was a wonderful atmosphere, and I think the players enjoyed that. I hope we can repeat the atmosphere or get something similar on Sunday for the final. This team deserves a crowd.”
The Irish will take on seventh-seeded Syracuse for the ACC championship Sunday at 1 p.m. at Alumni Stadium.