The Ultras had moved from their resident bleachers and congregated at one end of the field. With each penalty kick came screams and gasps from the stands which were filled to capacity. As junior midfielder Marc Ybarra lined up to take his shot, though, there was a moment of near silence, punctuated by nervous murmurs. Everyone knew Michigan’s season hung in the balance.
Ybarra launched his shot to the right side of the goal as the keeper dove left. The crowd erupted in cheers. After a hard-fought game that remained 0-0 after regulation, No. 17-ranked Michigan (11-4-5) prevailed over Wright State (10-8-3) to win 5-4 in a shootout, ensuring its place in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
The first 90 minutes held no guarantees of such success, though. The Wolverines were tasked with finding their defensive footing with the absence of junior defender Jackson Ragen, replaced by freshman Carter Payne who has seen little playing time in the last month.
“For Carter, who hasn’t played since early in the season, to just jump in and compete was great,” said Michigan coach Chaka Daley. “Corfe (on Wright State) was a special player to go up against and (Carter) got noticeably stronger as the game went on.”
Offensively, both halves as well as extra time were defined by close chances for Michigan that couldn’t be converted. The Wolverines took 15 corner kicks over the course of the game but were unable to get on the board, despite a few resulting shots on goal. A near goal in the 14th minute captured this dynamic, as a corner kick from senior forward Jack Hallahan put a loose ball right in front of the net, but a shot from junior midfielder Carlos Tellez sailed it right over the crossbar.
After relative dominance in possession during the first 20 minutes, the Raiders’ attack activated and brought about a number of close chances in Michigan’s territory. Wright State’s offense produced numerous shooting chances only to be stumped by the Wolverines’ defense at the last second. Raiders midfielder Deri Corfe almost scored on three occasions, his nearest miss coming in the 24th minute as Michigan freshman keeper Owen Finnerty swatted his shot from the bottom left of the goal.
This dynamic continued into the second half, with the Raiders often hovering in and around Michigan’s box. The crowd appeared especially frustrated in the 76th minute when a shot from junior forward Mohammed Zakyi missed the right goal post by inches. A string of opportunities for Michigan from multiple free kicks and corner kicks in the last five minutes of regulation also fizzled out.
During extra time, the Wolverines regained much of the control they had lost but still couldn’t convert their opportunities in the box. A moment of hope was quickly extinguished in the 103rd minute as sophomore forward Derick Broche launched the ball into the back of the net off a pass from Zakyi, only to find out that Michigan had been called offsides.
As the clock approached the end of 110 minutes of frustrating play for both teams, a potentially season-ending shootout seemed inevitable. But Michigan had prepared for this possibility.
“It was definitely a hard fought game and by the end everyone was tired,” Ybarra said. “We knew we had to put ourselves in a spot where just a few moments of keeping your head clear and a bit of quality on the shot meant you knew you were going through.”
The Wolverines carried this mindset with them into the shootout. A save from Finnerty gave them the margin they needed and Ybarra’s shot made it official.
“Finnerty ran all five the right way,” Daley said. “We teach our guys be clinical in their approach so that they can save one –– if they can save that one it gives us a chance.”
That isn’t to say Michigan was necessarily content squeaking by so narrowly.
“We’re lucky with these shootouts at home,” Daley said. “We’re 2-for-2 in the last two years at home but 0-for-2 away.
“So we learned we probably can’t let it get to that point. But any way you can advance this time of year you take it and run.”