If the headlines referred to basketball, this would be a big deal. However, seeing as it was the second round of the NCAA Tournament for soccer, it's hard to see why this isn't a bigger deal. Granted, it's not one of the magically large college sports that dominate not only the media but the social atmosphere. Regardless, a sell-out crowd of 6,200 (and then some!) at the UNM Soccer Stadium acted like it was a big deal to them.
Due to the intricacies of the selection process, the Lobos, ranked number one in the country in almost every poll – and certainly by every poll that matters to the NCAA selection committee – and the only undefeated team in the country, got a 10 seed. This afforded UNM the luxury of a bye in the first round of the tournament but also presented a tough match up in the second round: Duke.
UNM seemed to control the first half, running ahead on corner kicks 4-1, forcing the Duke goalkeeper to make 2 saves to UNM's one, and staying ahead in the foul count 7-4. The only area where UNM was behind, in fact, was shots, where Duke led 8-6. All the breakdown of stats, though, could not prepare the Lobos or the crowd for Duke's Nick Palodichuk breaking free of the defense a mere six minutes into the second half and putting one in the back of the net. Playing a goal down, UNM had to increase their pressure, whereas Duke settled into a deep freeze, content to push when the opportunity seemed ample, but happy to let their lead win the game for them otherwise. The change that allowed UNM back in the game was a red card received by Chris Tweed-Kent, forcing Duke to play the last 15 minutes of the second half a man down. The equalizer came in the 82nd minute on a solo blast from Blake Smith. The crowd, teetering on the edge on nervous insanity mere moments before, burst into cheers. The undefeated season still had a chance!
The overtime goal to win the game was a thing of beauty: Matthew Gibbons sent in the perfect cross, Devon Sandoval headed it back across the net, and Carson Baldinger sent it straight to the back of the net. The crowd erupted, the UNM players held up their arms in triumph and Duke sank down to the field, justified in feeling they'd missed their opportunity.
The next game that UNM plays will be in South Florida, against the number 7 seed. Thanks to the aforementioned 10 seed that the number one Lobos received, they are unlikely to play any more home games. However, the game will be played at 4 PM (MST) and will be broadcast online, through golobos.com. It might not have the air of the more-prestigious football or basketball programs, but it is the number one team in the country, fighting for every inch – and it's a beautiful game.