Sarah Stratigakis beat a defender, dribbled around the goalkeeper and slid a desperate left-footed attempt towards the empty net.
All she could do was wait and watch as the ball trickled towards the goal for what seemed like an eternity.
“If that hits the wrong piece of grass, it’s going to hit the post,” said Michigan women’s soccer coach Greg Ryan.
Fortunately for the Wolverines, it didn’t.
The freshman midfielder’s shot found the back of the net with just 10 seconds left in regulation, salvaging a 2-2 draw for Michigan (1-1-1 Big Ten, 4-2-4 overall) at Minnesota.
Despite being jam-packed with tension, Thursday night’s contest was in many ways lopsided, and if all opportunities were equal, the Golden Gophers (0-1-1, 4-2-3) could rightfully say they dominated the match.
Against a shorthanded Wolverine squad missing five regular starters, Minnesota went on the attack early and often. The Golden Gophers fired off nine shots in the first 20 minutes, and outshot Michigan for the entire match by a whopping 39-7.
“We had hoped that we would be able to take care of the ball a little better and possess the ball a little more, but it just didn’t go that way,” Ryan said. “We definitely worked to keep it as tight as we can in the back and look for our chances on the break.”
In particular, the absences of defenders Brooke Cilley and Sura Yekka forced the Wolverines to adjust. Redshirt junior Taylor Timko, the usual starter at left back, had to move to central defense instead, which cost Michigan a key attacking threat.
“It’s her first game at center back so it was a lot of learning for her on the fly,” Ryan said. “It’s a tough position to be moved into. We missed Taylor because she’s so good getting forward wide.”
For all its ammunition, however, Minnesota failed to seriously challenge Sarah Jackson early on. The Wolverines’ senior keeper had to make just three routine saves in the first half.
Meanwhile, the Wolverines’ two attempts were the two best chances of the first half. Just six minutes in, junior midfielder Reilly Martin sent a corner into the danger area. The ball bounced to redshirt sophomore midfielder Katie Foug, but her point-blank effort was swallowed up by Minnesota goalkeeper Kailee Sharp.
Twenty minutes later, though, Foug got a second chance. Stratigakis corralled a long ball on the break and sent a chip-shot over a Golden Gopher defender into the box. Rushing in from the left, Foug volleyed the ball off a bounce and coolly slotted it into the bottom-right corner for her first goal of the season.
“It’s all about being clinical,” Stratigakis said. “Even though they did have more shots than us, it’s about how important it is to score that goal.”
In the second half, Minnesota continued its high-pressure attack but was much more precise. Four minutes in, Jackson sprawled to her right to deflect forward April Bockin’s wide-open effort in the box — one of five saves she recorded in the first 20 minutes of the half alone.
Despite the best efforts of Jackson and the Wolverines’ back line, maintaining a shutout while conceding over 20 shots isn’t exactly sustainable.
For Michigan, it was sustainable for 75 minutes, before Minnesota’s Julianna Gernes equalized on a rebound from close range.
The Golden Gophers continued to attack, looking to put away the scrappy Wolverines once and for all. And they very nearly did — with just over four minutes remaining, Gernes scored her second goal off a nifty back-heel assist from Sydney Squires.
With under a minute to play, Minnesota had one final possession to ice away the victory. But the Golden Gophers were unable to run the clock down completely, resulting in one last gasp for the Wolverines. Foug launched a ball downfield, Stratigakis caught up to it, and Michigan had new life.
“Just a great effort from Sarah,” Ryan said. “For a freshman to make that kind of effort to get your team back in the game is amazing.”
In overtime, Minnesota didn’t appear to show any signs of a letdown after conceding with just seconds left. The Gophers mostly dominated the two 10-minute periods, continuing to be aggressive in and around the box. Their best chance to win came six minutes into the first overtime when the ball dropped in front of a wide-open Athena Kuehn, but sophomore defender Jada Dayne’s clutch clearance extinguished the threat.
Looking for a game-winner and a hat-trick at the same time, Gernes took Minnesota’s final shot with 20 seconds left, but it flew high over the crossbar, and Michigan escaped with a result.
“We gave game balls out to everybody,” Ryan said. “This was going to be a tough game and we knew it. We had a lot of inexperienced players and players playing out of position. We just told them how proud we were of their effort and just sticking together and fighting until the last second.”