Hosting an NCAA Championship first round game for the second-straight season at the UCF Soccer Complex, UCF senior midfielder Kevan George tapped in a crossing pass from freshman Matthew Gaskins with only three minutes remaining in the second overtime to lift the Knights to a 1-0 win over Florida Gulf Coast Thursday. The Knights (12-5-3) now look ahead to a second-round showdown with South Florida Sunday at 6 p.m. in Tampa.
“What a fantastic game. That was college soccer at its best,” said UCF head coach Bryan Cunningham. “Give a lot of credit to our players for persevering in overtime, and also a lot of respect to (head coach) Bob Butehorn and Florida Gulf Coast for coming up here and giving us one heck of a match.”
Without a goal after 90 minutes of work, the Eagles outshot the Knights, 2-1, in the first 10-minute overtime session before the final overtime was required. With minutes quickly ticking away and a shootout looming, Malcolm Reed gained control to the right of the net and sent a ball to the opposite side for Gaskins. Not wasting any time, the defender connected with George on a pass directly in front of the net and the Trinidad & Tobago native easily placed it into the right-corner to send his team and the home fans into a frenzy.
“It was a team effort. We got the ball down on the right to Malcolm, he hit it over to Matt and he sent it over and I don’t remember what happened after that. I was about seven yards out and my eyes were closed when I hit it,” said George with a smile.
UCF’s redshirt freshman keeper Sebastian Evers racked up six saves in the first 90 minutes of regulation, and finished with seven saves overall for his second shutout of the year. FGCU (12-6-2) outshot the Knights, 17-15, but the home team led in corners, 6-4.
Evers was tested right away just two minutes into the first half after a foul gave FGCU a free kick at the top of the 18, yet Evers was in perfect position to cover up a shot from Andres Navas.
On the other end of the pitch, the Knights’ Spencer Scott delivered a cross to the goal mouth with 32 minutes left in the half, where McKauly Tulloch’s header sailed inches wide of the left post. Only five minutes later, Scott ripped a shot from 12 yards out that also traveled wide and the match remained scoreless.
UCF had a pair of quality chances with only nine minutes to go before halftime, as Cameron Cooksey’s strike from the right side of the net went over the crossbar, and Tulloch had a one-on-one chance with FGCU’s Nathan Ingham before the keeper slid in front of the shot, sending the contest into the break tied up at 0-0.
When the second half got underway, the Black and Gold maintained momentum and appeared to take the lead in the 57th minute as Ben Hunt flicked a shot over Ingham and into the left corner, yet he was ruled to be offside.
The Eagles attempted to put pressure on the Knights when the night reached the 76th minute, earning a free kick from 39 yards out in the middle of the pitch. FGCU’s Deion Jones had the honors and struck it cleanly only to witness a leaping Evers get a piece of the shot, sending it over the crossbar.
UCF’s best scoring chance to close out the half came with six minutes remaining, but Eduardo Jimenez’ shot from 13 yards clanked off the right post.
Wrapping up the NCAA first round, UCF is back in the second round for the second year in a row. In 2010, the Knights topped USF in the first round, 3-0, in Orlando before falling to Michigan, 2-1, in Ann Arbor.