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No. 6 Florida State soccer rallies to take down Florida

The Seminoles win a wild one in Tallahassee.

NCAA Soccer: DI Women’s College Cup Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

(6) Florida State (3-2) defeated Florida (2-3) by a 2-1 score tonight in Tallahassee.

Game Recap

FSU got off to a strong start. In the 4th minute the Noles were threatening. Jenna Nighswonger had the ball deep in Florida territory. She passed it back to a trailing Heather Payne. Payne found Gabby Carle who left it off for Nighswonger down the right flank. Nighswonger delivered a dangerous cross into the 18 yard box. Yujie Zhao was there to get a head on the ball but her header went high over the goal.

In the 16th minute, Malia Berkely drove the ball into the midfield from her position on the backline. She delivered a long direct ball that was chased down by FSU forward Abby Newton. Newton eventually secured the ball by beating Sammie Betters but her pass for a trailing Nighswonger was blocked by a nice play from UF defender Julia Lester.

In the 25th minute, Florida earned a corner when Parker Roberts laid a ball off for Kit Loferski. Loferski used her speed to get by Kirsten Pavlisko but Pavlisko was eventually able to recover to force the corner kick.

In the 36th minute, the Gators were able to force a turnover at midfield. Kouri Peace knocked a 50-50 ball away from Heather Payne and raced down the left flank with Payne and Gabby Carle sprinting behind her. Berkely eventually cut off Peace and keeper Caroline Jeffers was able to collect the ball and snuff out the Gator opportunity.

UF wasn’t done however. In the 37th minute Sammie Betters collected the ball at midfield and slipped a perfect pass that just barely got by Berkely and ended up at the feet of a streaking Cassidy Lindley. Lindley fired a shot on goal but the ball went wide.

In the 45th minute, Jenna Nighswonger made an outstanding play intercepting a pass deep in Gator territory. She executed a nifty backheel to get free and fired a curving ball from just outside the 18 yard box that looked headed for the upper left corner of the goal but just barely went over.

In the 53rd minute UF earned a corner. Betters stepped up to take it. Her initial cross was headed away by Clara Robbins for FSU. Lindley collected it for UF and sent it back over for Betters who lifted a searching ball into FSU’s 18 yard box. This time Berkely headed it away. Carina Baltrip-Reyes hustled to the ball and took it down the right flank before delivering a wicked cross into the box. Jaelin Howell headed it out for Florida State but her clearance went straight to Tess Sapone who fired a rocket into the upper left corner of the goal to give the Gators a 1-0 lead.

In the 57th minute the Noles would answer in controversial fashion. Howell intercepted a pass at midfield passing it over to Zhao. Zhao lofted a beautiful ball over the UF defenders right into the path of a charging Kristen McFarland. The Gator defenders relaxed thinking that McFarland was offside. However, the flag stayed down. Gator keeper Susi Espinoza half-heartedly came up to play the ball and it bounced off her leg right back to McFarland who sent it into the open net for the equalizer:

In the 71st minute FSU pulled ahead. Berkely drove the ball up the middle of the field finding Howell who executed a nice give and go with Nighswonger. Howell got the ball back and made an unbelievable run beating a pair of Gator defenders and drawing a couple more to her before laying the ball off for a wide open Zhao who fired a one-timer from a yard closer than the penalty spot past Espinoza to give the Seminoles a 2-1 lead:

In the 77th minute Zhao was fouled from behind. Berkely stepped up to take the free kick from about 28 yards out. She sent a dangerous ball into the Gator box that bounced in the box before Parker Roberts got a foot on it. However, McFarland was able to keep it in with a header that was saved by Espinoza. Robbins pounced on the rebound but Espinoza was there again to make a second save.

In the 78th minute, Howell slipped a gorgeous ball for Zhao who raced in on the keeper. However, Espinoza was able to disrupt Zhao enough that she couldn’t control the ball and it went over the endline for a goal kick.

In the 80th minute controversy erupted. Lindley sent a shot in from distance that Nole keeper Caroline Jeffers had no problem handling. As Jeffers caught the ball she ran into UF’s Laney Steed knocking Steed to the ground. Jeffers then walked over Steed making contact (maybe accidentally?) with Steed while she was on the ground. The referee immediately ran in and stopped the clock eventually making the square motion indicating that he was going to use the video assistant referee (VAR). After a couple of minutes delay the referee showed a red card sending off Jeffers. She was replaced in goal by Brooke Bollinger who immediately had to come in cold to try to save a penalty kick. These were Bollinger’s first minutes in a game since her injury last year in the ACC Championship Game. Because Jeffers was sent off, the Noles were reduced to playing with 10 players. Gloriana Villalobos was forced to leave the game since Bollinger replaced Jeffers in goal. Parker Roberts stepped up to take the penalty for the Gators but Bollinger made a spectacular save diving to her right to deny Roberts. Betters tried to score on the rebound, but her follow up shot went wide to the delight of a packed house at the Seminole Soccer Complex.

In the 89th minute Espinoza tried to pass the ball to one of her defenders but Zhao raced in and intercepted it for FSU. She juked both Espinoza and Julia Lester but Roberts hustled in and blocked Zhao’s shot for a corner kick.

Post Game

Florida State needed this win to bounce back from a disappointing trip to LA last week. Losing on the road to a pair of top 5 teams while not a full strength (Heather Payne missed both games due to Irish national team duties) is not a disgrace but the Noles didn’t want to compound it by losing three in a row especially to a rival.

Florida State mostly dominated the first half as UF was mainly content to sit in a shell and try to capitalize on counter-attacks. The game really opened up in the second half as both teams generated more chances.

This game was a hotly contested match that will be remembered for the controversies. UF thought that they would get an offsides call on the first Nole goal and FSU will think that their keeper was treated harshly on the red card. However, the Seminoles were able to deal best with the adversity and came away with the tough victory.

Florida State took a pair of tough losses in Los Angeles but this team is still in very good shape overall. Even though FSU lost those two games, because they were on the road against top 5 teams the RPI will not punish the Noles very much for those results. Barring injuries FSU is still on track to earn a top 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and will be a legitimate factor in the Championship race just like they were last year.

Next Game

Florida State will welcome Samford to the Seminole Soccer Complex on Sunday. Kickoff is at 1pm. The game will be broadcast on ACCNetwork Extra.