The Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-4-1, 2-2-1) picked up a colossal win in Chapel Hill on Friday, defeating the North Carolina Tar Heels (6-4-1, 2-3) by a score of 2-1 at Dorrance Field. The game was a very even one, with the balance of the match ever so slightly shifting back and forth as each team wanted to avoid being the first to buckle. Wake showed some renewed vigor and intensity in this one, pressing and counterpressing well, matching the Heels’ intensity every step of the way. Wake had the better of the chances through most of this game, and although they let some go by the wayside, they would do enough to sneak past UNC. With this result, Carolina continues their stop-start form, as they sit in the midst of a 3-4 stretch, not having won or lost two games in a row in that span. For the Deacs, it’s a second win in on the bounce, and a big ACC rebound after the letdown against Clemson last week.
The game had a very cagey start, with both teams starting proceedings a bit anxiously. Neither side wanted to be the first to make a costly mistake and go down early, but a huge error from the Heels should have seen the Deacs up inside of 4 minutes. A hideous backpass from Milo Garvanian from the left flank back into the center of his own box was intercepted by Kyle Holcomb, who rounded the keeper Alec Smir, but would scuff his effort wide of the open goal, keeping the score tied at 0-0. After these first few minutes of cagey, even play, Carolina would settle into the game and get a measure of control over it, although they had little to show for it going forward except for some skied shots from the top of the area and some set piece opportunities that didn’t lead to clean looks. After this brief 15 minute spell, the game went back into a back and forth rhythm, with each team showing some promise going forward.
In the 22nd minute, Garrison Tubbs would send a ball in from the right flank that set up Omar Hernandez in a dangerous spot just outside the six yard box, but he couldn’t direct the ball, which came in at knee height, toward goal. The ball would hit the back of the net in the 40th minute for the Tar Heels, with Milo Garvanian floating a deep set piece in to Joe Pickering, who would loop his header into the side netting of the far post, seemingly giving them the lead. However, the center official immediately waved the goal off, calling Pickering for a push on Nico Benalcazar as he elevated for the headball. Wake would get another chance before the half was out, with some lovely combination play between Hosei Kijima, Ryan Fessler, and Colin Thomas ending with Thomas in on the keeper from the left side of the box, with the Wake winger ripping a left footed effort from a wide angle past Smir, but off of the near post and out for a goal kick. At the end of the half, the score was tied, and both teams had positives to take from it, with the Deacs knowing they got the better chances and were matching the Heels’ intensity, and the Heels unhappy with their nervy start, but content with the way they kept their composure played through Wake’s press.
To start the second half, Wake started to take control of the game, and had the better of the play for much of the next 45 minutes. They got off to a hot start in the 49th minute, with a good play from Jake Swallen to break through the Tar Heel press setting up Ryan Fessler in the middle of the field, who sent a great ball up the flank to Chase Oliver. Oliver crossed it in, with his somewhat wayward ball being sent back in by Hosei Kijima on the endline, with Kyle Holcomb left all by himself in the center of the box to put it away on the full volley. It was a bit of a mishit shot, and it did deflect off of Alec Smir’s head, but it still ended up in the net to give the Deacs the lead. Although the Deacs were having the better of the play, they’d be caught in possession in their own half, with a costly Takuma Suzuki turnover in the middle of the field leading to a fast Tar Heel break. A Tim Schels ball to Tega Ikoba on his left would get Carolina back into this game in the 54th minute, with the true freshman lashing one across his body into the far bottom corner to get his 4th collegiate goal.
The game was right back in the balance, but the Deacs didn’t flinch, and kept playing the game on their terms, possessing the ball well and winning it back fairly quickly after they did lose it. They nearly found themselves back in front in the 61st minute, when an incredible ball by Jake Swallen through the heart of the defense found David Wrona in behind, who would cut it back to Kyle Holcomb with Smir out of position, but he was unable to get a shot away as a Carolina player got his body in front of the ball, forcing him to play the ball back to set up Ryan Fessler. Fessler would drag his effort wide of the post on the ground as the two Carolina defenders in the goal covering for their keeper watched it roll wide. The Heels nearly found the goal to get their noses out in front in the 77th minute, as Jonathan Jimenez was able to get loose on the left flank and cut the ball back for Ken Bellini, who was able to turn on the ball and fire it on frame, but it was blocked by Nico Benalcazar. The rebound came out to Santiago Herrera, who would stretch out to hit it on the half volley, with Trace Alphin making a big save on his bouncing effort toward the far post. Although the rebound went out to Jonathan Jimenez, Prince Amponsah was able to step out and make a huge block on his effort from the top of the box, with the ball going out for a corner that ultimately led to nothing.
Wake continued to possess down the stretch, and put Carolina under significant pressure late in the game. A huge save from Alec Smir preserved the tie for the Tar Heels in the 87th minute, as an Omar Hernandez corner got all the way to Kyle Holcomb at the back post, with Holcomb heading the ball on frame from close range, and Smir getting his right hand to it to palm it over the crossbar. Only a minute later, the Deacs would find their golden opportunity to take all three points, with Garrison Tubbs forcing the ball through two defenders, making his way into the box from the right wing, and trying to cut back into the middle as he was ripped down by a clumsy Fillipo Zattarin challenge to give the Deacs a penalty kick. Jake Swallen stepped up to take it, and smashed it off of the underside of the crossbar and in, over Alec Smir who had guessed correctly, but couldn’t get close to Swallen’s well placed spot kick. Carolina would get a final chance on a corner in the 90th minute of time, with Smir coming up for the late chance and heading Santiago Herrera’s corner back across the six yard box to Alex Rose, who would hit a weak looping header from inside the six that Trace Alphin would tip over the bar. Wake would weather the storm in the final moments, and come back to Winston-Salem with a big victory.
It was a resilient performance from Wake, who did well to earn themselves all three points against what has been a traditionally difficult opponent in a traditionally difficult place to play. Wake benefitted from a lot of good performances, but Garrison Tubbs stands out as the man of the match for me. He made some great plays out wide going forward for Wake, including earning the penalty that Jake Swallen put away, but also was exceptional in limiting Gerit Wintermeyer, UNC’s aerial threat. It was an exceptional game from the rest of the backline as well, as Nico Benalcazar and Prince Amponsah put out great performances again for Wake, defending well throughout the match. Jake Swallen was also incredible, working excellently as Wake’s press buster, also finding some dangerous balls to set up Wake with big opportunities, and of course scoring the PK to give the Deacs the win. Overall, Wake can be happy with the way they played and the result they came out with, and now will look to keep the momentum going into a huge matchup with a ranked VT squad next weekend.
Before hosting Virginia Tech next Saturday, the Deacs will play hosts to the George Washington Colonials on Tuesday, with kickoff set for 7:00.