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FSU soccer advances to the Elite 8 in a thriller over USC

The ’Noles secure their second comeback win in a row.

MLS: Eastern Conference Semifinal-Columbus Crew SC at New York Red Bulls Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

(1) Florida State (17-4-3) defeated (4) USC (17-2-3) in penalty kicks (5-4) after the game ended in a 1-1 tie.


This was one of the most anticipated Sweet 16 games in the tournament. Florida State has been on a major roll in the postseason going 5-0 with four of the wins coming against top 20 opponents (three of those teams were in the top 10). For their part USC has also been extremely hot. The Trojans have only lost twice all year - to top five UCLA and Stanford both in overtime. This sterling record led many to question whether the Trojans were under-seeded at #4. The Seminoles and the Trojans met earlier this year and the two teams played to a scoreless tie.

Game Recap

Florida State wasted little time trying to make a mark on this game. In the fourth minute the Noles had a golden opportunity. Gabby Carle found Kaycie Tillman on the right flank. Tillman put a gorgeous move on USC defender Julia Bingham to get free in the middle of the field. Tillman then slips a beautiful ball to Yujie Zhao inside the box. Zhao turns toward goal drawing the defense to her and lays the ball off to an open Deyna Castellanos who one-timed a shot on goal. USC keeper Kaylie Collins comes up big denying Castellanos with a brilliant reflexive kick save. The rebound came back to Zhao. She played it back to a trailing Kristen McFarland who one-timed a shot that was blocked and cleared by Bingham.

After this early possession from FSU the Trojans settled down and managed to get most of the possession for the next 15 minutes. Unfortunately for USC they were unable to translate that possession into great chances.

In the 21st minute Collins was tested again. Gloriana Villalobos (who started in place of the injured Kristina Lynch) found Zhao in the middle of the field. Zhao drove the ball toward the box and found McFarland at the edge of the box. McFarland was double teamed so she passed back to Zhao. Zhao took a touch and launched a shot that was headed for the lower left corner of the goal but Collins had other ideas. The redshirt sophomore made a diving save just barely getting a hand on the ball to deflect it off the post and out for a corner. FSU would be up 2-0 against a normal keeper but Collins is the Pac12 keeper of the year for a reason:

In the 25th minute FSU tried again. The Seminoles earned a corner. Malia Berkely took it deciding to go short to an open Castellanos at the top of the 18 yard box. Castellanos took a touch and sent a rocket on goal that Collins was able to deflect away with a diving save. The rebound came to McFarland but her follow-up shot was blocked by Bingham and eventually cleared by Tara McKeown:

In the 26th minute Yujie Zhao tried her luck against Collins. Collins mishit a punt. USC wasn’t able to clear and the ball ended up at the feet of Zhao. She took a shot from about 35 feet that nearly caught Collins off her line but the Trojan keeper was able to recover and knock the ball out for a corner.

In the 30th minute Villalobos reversed the field for Gabby Carle. Carle drove the ball at the defense and laid it off for Kaycie Tillman on the right flank. Tillman took a shot from the edge of the box that went just a bit high.

In the 37th minute USC broke the scoring seal. Savannah DeMelo gathered the ball in the midfield. She sent a long pass down the left flank for Penelope Hocking. Hocking showed her speed racing for the ball. She sent a cross in that was blocked by Carle. Hocking got the ball back and got past Natalia Kuikka. She launched a shot for the upper 90 that was placed perfectly. Seminole keeper Caroline Jeffers barely moved as the ball whizzed by her into the back of the net. USC had taken a 1-0 lead stunning the Seminole faithful.

In the 50th minute USC generated another great chance. Bingham sent a dangerous ball into the box that found Natalie Jacobs. Jacobs gathered it and played it back for Alea Hyatt. Hyatt one-timed a shot that was blocked by Kuikka. Hyatt got the rebound and passed it to Leah Pruitt who tried a cheeky back heel that went just wide.

In the 57th minute Gabby Carle found Yujie Zhao in the middle of the field. Zhao turned and tried to get the ball to Castellanos but Ashleigh Plumptre stepped up and broke up the pass. The ball deflected up and hit Plumptre’s hand. The referee awarded a free kick to the Noles due to the handball. Castellanos took the free kick quickly from about 10 yards outside the box. It was a curling shot that avoided the wall and was still on frame but Collins was there to deny Castellanos with another diving save.

In the 65th minute FSU secured the equalizer. After a Tillman throw in Yujie Zhao lifted a ball for Castellanos in the box. Castellanos did a great job boxing out Alea Hyatt. She was able to get off a dangerous header that Collins was just able to knock over the goal for another Seminole corner. Berkely took the corner driving the ball into the box. Jaelin Howell beat Natalie Jacobs in the air to get her head on the ball sending the ball toward the goal. The ball went straight toward Dallas Dorosy who was standing on the edge of the six yard box. Dorosy was able to bang the ball into the net to tie the game at 1-1:

In the 69th minute the Trojans were awarded a free kick from about 23 feet out. The referee called Megan Connolly for the foul on DeMelo. Connolly was booked for the foul. Hocking took the free kick and got it past the wall, but Jeffers was there to catch it.

In the 83rd minute FSU earned a corner. Castellanos took it and sent the ball into the box. After a header from USC, the ball came out to Berkely. She sent it back into the box where Carle tried to get it on goal. Howell tried to help it along with a back heel, but the Trojans were there to block it. Dorosy got the rebound, but her follow up shot was also blocked. USC tried to clear, once again, but the ball came out to Villalobos. Her shot was also blocked, and the Trojans finally were able to clear the ball out of danger.

In the 86th minute USC almost iced the game. Penelope Hocking was able to split Kirsten Pavlisko and Villalobos, launching a shot that hit the crossbar before rebounding down outside the goal. A follow-up shot went high.

Regulation ended in a 1-1 tie so both teams prepared for the two 10 minute overtime periods.

In the 93rd minute Alea Hyatt collected an errant ball and tried her luck from about 25 yards out. Jeffers looked like she had it covered but the ball went just over her hand and hit the crossbar and bounced away.

In the 108th minute Jaelin Howell found Villalobos on the left flank. Villalobos dribbled the ball into the box and fired a shot that was saved by a diving Collins.

After that save, neither team generated a great opportunity, and the game went to penalty kicks. The procedure for penalty kicks is that the team that leads after five tries wins the game. If there is a tie after five tries the teams continue to take penalties until one of them is leading after a round, at which time that team is declared the winner.

USC stepped up to take the first penalty shot. The Trojans sent Natalie Jacobs, Ally Prisock, Arlie Jones, Daria Petredes and Leah Pruitt to the spot to face Jeffers. FSU sent Anna Patten, Natalia Kuikka, Gabby Carle, Jaelin Howell and Yujie Zhao to face Collins. The score was tied 4-4 after the first four shooters. Pruitt stepped up for USC. The crowd was in full throat. Pruitt tried to send the ball into the left corner of the goal, but Jeffers guessed correctly and made the pressure save to deny Pruitt and give the Noles an advantage in the penalty kick round. It was all up to Zhao. The freshman from China stepped to the spot to face Collins with the season on the line. Zhao approached the ball and took a stutter step before firing it into the lower left corner to beat Collins and send the Noles to the Elite 8:

Post Game

Florida State led USC in shots 21-12 and in shots on goal (10-4). The Noles also had a 10-5 edge in corner kicks.

Although this game was significantly closer than the game between these two played in August, Florida State had the majority of the opportunities and was the better team on the day. In fact the score could have easily been three or four to one if not for the brilliance of USC keeper Kaylie Collins.

Speaking of keepers, FSU redshirt junior Caroline Jeffers deserves big props for her penalty kick save. She has generally played well in relief of Brooke Bollinger, but of course the save at the end will be the one that is most remembered.

The FSU defense was also on point for the entire afternoon. They showed that they don’t need the midfielders to dominate possession for them to play well.

Next Game

FSU will welcome Penn State to Tallahassee for the Elite Eight. The Nittany Lions (18-5-1) knocked off Wake Forest 1-0 to advance. The game is scheduled for Friday, November 23rd with the time to be determined.