Karnes at 89:59. The box score will never do the moment justice. The Elis took all but one second to seize the most unbelievable triumph in Yale women’s soccer history.
Mighty Duke has fallen, and it’s on to South Bend and the Sweet Sixteen for the Cinderella Bulldogs.
With her last ever action in home whites, midfielder Laurel Karnes ’06 stunned a packed Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium with the biggest goal in the 28-year history of the Yale (15-3-1) program. Off a Maggie Westfal ’09 throw-in with less than 10 seconds to go, midfielder Crysti Howser ’09 found an unmarked Karnes at the top of the Duke (14-6-1) box. The senior midfielder tapped it past the Duke goalkeeper, and the improbable 2-1 score popped up on the scoreboard with 0:01 to go.
Raucous home fans barged over the flimsy ropes that were set up to contain them and chaos erupted in front of the opposing net. Yellow-jacketed security staff helplessly watched as the mixed heap of players and revelers amassed in a huge heap in the Duke penalty box. Dejected Blue Devil players lay scattered across their half, stung by defeat and disgusted by the celebration.
Little did they know the game was not over. There was a single second dangling on the clock. But at this point, finishing the game was just a formality.
After order was restored, a jubilant Bulldogs starting eleven and their tearful counterparts across midfield lined up to run off the final second. After a single boot from midfield dropped well short of Yale goalie Chloe Beizer ’07, the spectacular victory was secure.
Yale head coach Rudy Meredith still grappled with the historic proportions of the upset after the celebration subsided.
“This is definitely the biggest win of my college career,” he said. “I almost booked a plane ticket to Florida for a recruiting trip next weekend, but I guess I won’t be going.”
Instead, the Bulldogs have won themselves a rendezvous with Notre Dame in South Bend Friday night, as the Irish thrashed Michigan State this afternoon, 3-0, to emerge unscathed from their bracket. The defending NCAA champions have not lost at home in two years, and have now advanced to the Round of 16 for the 10th time in 12 years.
But the Bulldogs want to take a little time to enjoy this historic occasion before turning their focus to next weekend. After all, the Elis were nothing but distinct underdogs a couple of hours before, despite beating Central Connecticut (17-4), 3-0, Friday night in the NCAA opener. Duke shut out Yale, 1-0, in the inaugural game of the season in the Nike Carolina Classic Sept. 2 and was ranked as high as seventh in the country earlier this year.
Forward Emma Whitfield ’09 understandably had jitters heading into the game.
“I was terrified before the game, I felt sick,” she said. “But I knew that once the game started, we would step up and play as we should.”
But the Elis took little note of their disadvantage on paper in the opening minutes. Much to the delight of the near-capacity crowd, Yale kept the pressure around the Duke net and railed off a couple of quick shots in the first 15 minutes, while the Blue Devils could hardly clear the ball out of their half. The quick start fed the confidence of a team who knew that they had come a long way since their September loss on Tobacco Road.
“We always thought all along that we could keep up with them,” said Howser. “Especially at the beginning when we were killing them.”
Despite the early outburst, the Bulldogs’ advantage faded as halftime loomed. Both teams had a couple of close calls in the closing minutes of the first half, but ultimately, two of the strongest defenses in the country lived up to their billing in the first 45 minutes.
Meredith said he was a little disappointed that his squad, with the early momentum, could not deliver a first half score.
“I was a little upset that we didn’t score,” he said. “We played so well, but at the half, at least we became more confident that we could play with them.”
Right after the break, the game took on a more offensive tone, and the Elis could not stymie the Blue Devil onslaught for long. Out of a jumble in front of the goal, Duke midfielder Darby Kroyer emerged from the fray to knock a chip shot into the right corner of the net.
The deficit may have been the spark the home team needed. Moments later, an apparent goal off a scramble from a defender Christina Huang ’07 direct kick was called back for being offside, but a new hero came out of the backfield to knot the score at one.
Defender Natasha Mann ’09 corralled the fourth Yale corner kick of the day and booted it into the right corner of the net for the first home goal of the affair. It was also the first career goal for Mann, who has made quite an impression in her first season rounding out the Eli defense.
“She’s an offensive player, and she picked the best time possible to get her first goal,” Meredith said. “She’s learned a new position this year, but she’ll probably replace [midfielder] Laurel [Karnes] next year.”
Mann did not have to wait long to prove how far she has come as a defender this year. After Beizer popped out of the net and got a hand on a Duke shot a few minutes later, Mann dashed to the right post to block the potential go-ahead score.
The physical intensity kicked up a bit as the second half got underway, hardly an anomaly for this plucky Bulldog squad. But, for the first time this season, the NCAA refereeing staff was willing to issue warnings. Howser received a yellow card at 62:46, then Duke’s Kate Seibert emerged from a shouting match with the chief referee with a yellow card of her own with less than five minutes in the half. The Ivy League Rookie of the Year downplayed the heated vigor as a natural part of the game.
“They were just playing a very physical game,” Howser said. “We just tried to match them physically, especially going towards the end of the game.”
Heading into the final minute, the Elis had finally wrested the momentum back from the Devils and had the ball in the opposing third. Around the 20-second mark, a Duke defender knocked the ball out of bounds at the sideline near the top right corner of the penalty box. Whitfield said confusion ensued for a few seconds as neither her, nor the referee nor Westfal picked up the ball.
“The ball was just rolling around about two feet off the line,” Whitfield said. “Nobody was there to get it off the field.”
As the public address announcer began to count off the final ten seconds, Westfal finally swooped in and delivered the throw-in that would ultimately lead to the game-clinching play. A cross and a shot later, a game that looked destined for extra time was all but over.
“We were hurrying up to get a play, because we thought they were slowing down,” Meredith said. “Our goal is to play the whole 90 minutes, so we were trying to score right then and there.”
Players were especially thrilled that Karnes, who is sixth all time in Yale scoring and has started every game of her four years here, delivered the definitive boot.
“I could not be happier that Laurel got that final goal,” Beizer said. “She wasn’t the highest on points this year, but it’s her leadership that has gotten us this far.”
Enjoying the celebration more than anyone in the stands may have been Yale President Richard Levin, who was at the forefront of the electric crowd backing up the home bench. Levin, who has been following the ups and downs of the team the entire season, said he is hardly the passive fan at Bulldog sporting events.
“I’m pretty enthusiastic at sports games,” he said. “You don’t win that many soccer games in the last ten seconds. I was worried in the second half when it seemed like Duke was dominating the game for the last 20 or 25 minutes, and then Yale broke through.”
Perhaps Yale’s most recent connection with Duke came when former Dean Richard Brodhead departed the Elm City last year to take on the role of university president down in Durham. Brodhead was not in attendance yesterday, but Levin said he surely would have been entertained to see his former and current schools battle head to head in such an important game.
“He originally thought he would be able to come, but he couldn’t make it,” Levin said. “I’m sure he would have been torn.”
The Bulldogs advance out of the initial bracket of four for the first time in program history, but it took yesterday’s nailbiter against third-seeded Duke and another team effort Friday night against Central Connecticut to do so. Defender Mary Kuder ’08 and Whitfield both notched goals in the first half and forward Mimi Macauley ’07 rounded out the scoring in the 3-0 final against the other Blue Devils team.
But it will not get any easier when the Elis fly down to South Bend, Ind., to face the second-seeded Fighting Irish on Friday.
Still, for the time being, the Bulldogs are on Cloud 9. And why not — a team that started off the year by getting humbled in North Carolina is now one of the best 16 teams in the nation.
“I never dreamed that we would come this far,” Beizer said. “We truly are a Cinderella story.”