In what has become a theme for this team, the No. 6 Wake Forest Demon Deacons won in dramatic fashion, defeating the Louisville Cardinals 2-1 in overtime at Spry to move to 11-2-1 on the season and 3-0-1 in conference in the spring window. The Cards slide down to 3-8-1 and 2-2 in conference in the spring window. This victory also marked Bobby Muss’ 100th at the program, making him the fastest coach to reach 100 wins at their current institution, doing it in 128 games. More relevant to this season, however, this game sets up a huge clash with Clemson next week with the ACC’s automatic tournament bid still on the line. At the end of the regular season, the winner of each division of the ACC will play one another for a chance to play Clemson, the ACC Tournament winner, with the automatic bid on the line. If Clemson leads its, and Wake’s, division then they will play the winner of the other division. Currently, Wake sits at 3-0-1 for the spring, while Clemson is still a perfect 4-0. But before looking forward to that game, let’s look back on this one.
This game looked like it would be a very open, back and forth one going in, and it certainly was in the first half. Kyle Holcomb was sent in on a breakaway in the first minute of the game, but the official raised his flag for offside, which was a call that Holcomb adamantly appealed. For the next 15 minutes, Louisville dominated. Wake couldn’t get out of their half in that span, and the Cards punished them with 35:27 to go, with Real Salt Lake draft pick Elijah Amo collecting a careless pass into the midfield by Nico Benalcazar, taking it to the end line and cutting it back across to Aboubacar Camara, who slotted it home to open the scoring. Although it was a good start for the Cardinals, it felt like a wake up call for the Deacs, who had a very good spell after the goal.
Although Camara had another half chance on the right side of the box on a long ball over the defense, he hit it on the half volley right into the arms of Cole McNally. Only moments later, the Deacs drove the ball forward, with Omar Hernandez finding Jahlane Forbes on the left, who cut it back across to Kyle Holcomb on the penalty spot, who saw his chance deflected wide by Bryce Lebel. Lebel made another key block on a Holcomb shot with about 12 to go in the half. A huge chance came to Wake with 9 to go in the half, with Kyle Holcomb collecting a telegraphed back pass from Elijah Amo with no defender close to him, cutting it back to Omar Hernandez, who got the ball stuck under his feet with no one around him, leading to Amo winning the ball back for Louisville. Another great effort went begging for Wake, with 3 minutes left in the half, with an Omar Hernandez ball finding the head of Nico Benalcazar, who put a great shot on goal that Detre Bell was able to somehow claw wide. Just before the half ended, Pedro Fonseca had a free kick in a dangerous area for the Cardinals after a bad giveaway and foul by Benalcazar, but his shot was claimed easily by McNally to take the game into the half, with Louisville still leading.
It was a welcome break for Louisville, who had seen the momentum turn against them after their goal, but coming out of the break they were still fighting the tide. After another period of Wake control, a free kick opportunity presented itself for the Deacs after William Portman fouled Colin Thomas in a dangerous area. Jake Swallen, Holland Rula, and Omar Hernandez lined up to take it, with Swallen and Rula running over the ball before Hernandez struck it toward the goalie’s side, catching Bell cheating to his right and leaving him to watch the ball nestle into the side netting.
Things went from bad to worse for Louisville 8 minutes later, as they were reduced to ten players after a red card to William Portman due to a horror tackle on Holland Rula. Rula was helped to the bench after the challenge and did not come back into the game. For the rest of the game, Louisville was on the back foot, and Wake controlled it until its conclusion. Half chances would pile up for the Deacs, with Cristian Escribano seeing a shot from the right side of the box deflected wide by Haji Abdikadir with 16 minutes left. Ryan Fessler connected with a Chase Oliver cross but he couldn’t direct his shot on frame with his left foot. Louisville almost saw their luck run out in calamitous fashion with 8 minutes left, as a miscommunication between Abdikadir and Bell led to a back pass from the former getting past the latter, with the ball rolling perilously toward the goal. Luckily for Louisville, it came off the post and bounced out, saving the game for the Cards and saving Adikadir from some blushes.
Wake would have another couple of chances before regulation wrapped up, with Colin Thomas finding himself in space on the left with 4 minutes left, but William Valtos couldn’t reach his cross before Jack Fasteen put it out for a corner. Sebastian Scrivner would put a powerful shot on frame from an acute angle on the right side of the box with about a minute and a half left, but Bell got his hands up to it and put it over the bar. After nothing came from the ensuing corner, Louisville saw out the remainder of regulation, setting up overtime.
With the Deacs still firmly in control and up a man, Louisville had little hope of a win and were instead angling to survive. They would not. Only 2 minutes into overtime, a searing ball from Nico Benalcazar down the right side to Cristian Escribano cut open the Louisville defense, with Escribano cutting the ball back to Omar Hernandez. Hernandez settled the ball with his right foot but Hernandez was clumsily run over by Bradley Sample, leading to a penalty kick. Hernandez would step up and take the penalty, sending Bell the wrong way and rolling it into the back of the net to give the Deacs another win.
Man of the match was an easy pick. Omar Hernandez’s performance changed the complexion of the game, with his move into the attacking midfield spot in the first half helping Wake establish themselves in the match, and his two goals ultimately winning it for the Deacs. Jahlane Forbes also had a good game playing both on the left wing and at left back after the injury to Rula. Cristian Escribano was also solid in this one on the right side, showing a lot going forward in this game. It was an impressive win for Wake, and helped continue a theme from their other wins so far. This was the third game that Wake won this spring after trailing in the second half. In the fall, they did not go behind in any of their victories. This group just seems to never say die. But next week will test their mettle unlike any other they have played in this window.
Wake travels to face the No. 1 Clemson Tigers next Friday, with kickoff set for 7:00 PM.