Georgia started the game strong. In the third minute Abby Boyan tackled the ball away from Lauren Flynn as she was dribbling out of the back. Tori Penn came over to collect the ball and she one-timed it back to Boyan who was making a run down the right flank. Boyan one-timed a lovely ball over to an unmarked Alyssa Stadeker who was making a run into the box. The former Nole got her head on the cross but her shot went wide of the goal.
Florida State responded quickly. In the fifth minute FSU earned a throw-in that was in the attacking third. Clara Robbins took it quickly finding Beata Olsson who was posting up in the box. Olsson executed a brilliant turn and fired a hard low ball for goal but UGA keeper Liz Beardsley came up big getting down to knock the shot away.
However, FSU kept attacking. In the sixth minute Ran Iwai drove the ball from the midfield into the attacking third. She eventually laid the ball off for Jenna Nighswonger who was open in the middle of the field. Nighswonger toe poked the ball over to Onyi Echegini who was making an overlapping run down the right flank. Echegini took couple of touches to get free before firing a low hard strike for the corner of the goal. The shot beat Beardsley before hitting the right post and then ricocheting into the goal. It was the first goal of the year for Florida State and obviously Echegini’s first goal in Garnet and Gold.
The Noles kept up the pressure. In the ninth minute LeiLanni Nesbeth drove the ball out of midfield and found Clara Robbins open in the middle of the field. Robbins turned and laid the ball off for Echegini who was making a run down the right flank. Echegini took a touch and then fired a right-footed shot toward goal. Beardsley was positioned to take away the near post so Echegini went far post for her shot. The ball hit off the post, caromed across the goal mouth and then hit the bottom of the right post. Beardsley was on her knees trying to catch up to the ball but it glanced off of her head before it could be cleared away. It would take a Sherlock Holmes level detective to solve the mystery of how that ball didn’t go into the goal.
In the 10th minute the Seminoles generated another chance. Clara Robbins was taken down by Dasia Torbert just outside the 18 yard box. Nighswonger and Nesbeth stood over the ball but it was Nighswonger who sent a dangerous ball into the box with her left foot. Olsson was there to dive for the ball but it sailed just by her head before going harmlessly out of bounds.
In the 12th minute the Dawgs responded with a chance of their own. Torbert received the ball just outside the box. She laid it off for Boyan who took a couple of touches before sending a gorgeous ball into the box perfectly placed for a wide open Tori Penn to one-time a shot to goal. However, Cristina Roque came up with a sparkling save diving to her right to knock the ball away with her right hand.
In the 26th minute the Noles secured some insurance. Nighswonger pounced on a poor Georgia clearance. She deflected the ball to Olsson who immediately one-timed it back to Nighswonger. Jenna then took a touch before sending in a perfectly struck curling ball that found the left corner of the net to give the Noles a 2-0 lead.
In the 28th minute the Bulldogs found an answer. Madison Haugen received the ball in the attacking third. She took a few dribbles before spotting Dani Murguia who managed to get inside of Heather Payne. Murguia received the ball and then turned and sent a perfectly placed ball past a diving Roque and into the left corner of the goal to cut the lead to 2-1.
In the 33rd minute the Noles had another chance. Maria Alagoa drove the ball out of the midfield into the attacking third. She laid the ball off for a wide open Emma Bissell on the right flank. Bissell one-timed a perfect pass to Olsson who was charging down the field. Olsson sent a one-timer to goal but Beardsley came up with a great kick save knocking the ball out for a corner.
Alagoa took the corner for FSU. She sent a ball into the near post where Bissell was posting up. Bissell flicked a dangerous header toward goal that beat a diving Beardsley and put the Noles up 3-1.
In the 53rd minute the Seminoles kept the pressure going. Florida State earned a corner kick. Nighswonger took the corner and lofted a beautiful ball into the six. Echegini soared over everyone and knocked a hard header into the back of the net. However, the whistle sounded. Referee Christina Unkel (remember her?) ruled that Echegini had committed a foul or that Nesbeth had obstructed UGA keeper Beardsley. It’s not clear which but in any case the Noles were denied their fourth goal.
In the 54th minute the Noles kept asking questions of the UGA defense. Robbins received the ball in midfield. She spotted Jody Brown on the left flank. Brown caught up to the ball and one-timed it back for Robbins who was slicing through the box. Robbins took a touch and then fired a left footed blast for goal but she was denied when Beardsley came up with an outstanding save.
In the 79th minute FSU generated yet another chance. Olivia Garcia was driving toward the box and she was tripped up by Haugen. The whistle sounded and Florida State was awarded free kick in a dangerous area about 25 yards away from goal. Nesbeth and Alagoa stood over the ball. It was Alagoa who stepped up to send a brilliant strike for goal. Beardsley came up big yet again and got up to knock the ball over the goal with her right hand.
UGA refused to quit. In the 86th minute the Dawgs generated their last chance of the game. Mallie McKenzie drove the ball toward the box and she was taken down by Lauren Flynn just outside the box. It looked like referee Unkel got it right ruling that the foul came outside the box but it was really close. Murguia took the free kick and sent a dangerous ball into the box but no one could get a head on it and it bounded harmlessly out of bounds.
From there the Seminoles salted the game away and left the field with a well earned 3-1 victory.
Florida State outshot Georgia 13-9 (9-4 on goal).
The Noles won the possession battle 65%-35%.
We only have a small sample size of two games but already we can see that this team has the talent (provided they remain relatively healthy) to be a force in the tough ACC and nationally. With the short bench the Noles will have to rely on freshmen more than usual but none of them look like the moment is too big for them.
Many players played well today but a couple deserve special mention. When Jenna Nighswonger arrived in Tallahassee in 2019 she was a heralded five-star recruit from Huntington Beach, CA. However, she was overshadowed a bit in the midfield first by Deyna Castellanos and later by Jaelin Howell. She came off the bench in the early years but always found a way to make her mark. The best example of that may be the beautiful goal that she scored in the national championship game against Santa Clara. Her talent was never questioned. Now she has the opportunity. As a senior she has already stepped up big time for FSU this year. She is dangerous every time she touches the ball. That was evident today when she conjured that beautiful goal out of nothing. Nighswonger is a player that every future opponent for the rest of the year will have to really concentrate on in order to have any chance to beat the Seminoles.
Onyi Echegini is the first impact recruit of the Pensky era. She came over from Mississippi State where she starred for a struggling team. She was a godsend for this team. FSU had a spot open on the wing with the transfer of Olivia Smith to Penn State. Echegini has filled that spot with aplomb. She brings skill and athleticism to the table but perhaps her most valuable attribute is her toughness. She has already served notice that she intends to be a difference maker for Florida State. She is proving to be just what the doctor ordered for this FSU team that is transitioning into a new era.
Florida State’s offense was much more clinical than what we saw on Thursday in Columbia. The Noles generated a similar number of chances than the first game but they finished them much better this afternoon. Time will tell whether the first game was just a feeling out game that FSU needed to get in the groove and today’s game is a better gauge of the offense. If so, this team could be really good again (provided they avoid injuries of course).
On Thursday the Seminoles will play their first home game of the year when they host the Auburn Tigers. The game will kick off at 6pm and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.