Facing NCAA Tournament elimination and the end of her collegiate career, senior midfielder Clare Stachel took matters into her own hands on Saturday night. Her spectacular header with less than a minute remaining in regulation helped propel the Michigan women’s soccer team to a 2-1 victory over Central Michigan at the U-M Soccer Complex.

The Wolverines (8-3-2 Big Ten, 15-5-2 overall) tested the Chippewas early in the match, earning two corner kicks in the first two minutes. But it was Central Michigan (9-2 Mid-American Conference, 15-7-1) which drew first blood on its first offensive opportunity just three minutes into the contest. Central Michigan defender Bailey Brandon took a long throw-in into Michigan’s 18-yard box, and forward Laura Gosse managed to one-touch a shot past Michigan senior goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer. Gosse’s fifth goal of the season gave the Chippewas an early advantage.

Gosse’s tally almost proved to be the game-winner for Central Michigan, as the Wolverines time and again couldn’t find the back of the net. In the 24th minute, junior forward Nkem Ezurike passed a ball between a defender’s legs to midfielder Cassie Collins. The freshman had an open look at goal from the penalty spot, but fired a shot off the post. Five minutes later, junior midfielder Meghan Toohey’s header rattled the crossbar. And midway through the second half, Ezurike had an opportunity alone against the goalkeeper but also hit the post.

In the 89th minute, Stachel shook the woodwork once more. But unlike so many prior opportunities, the ball deflected in. Sprinting towards the net and being defended closely by a Chippewa, Stachel headed a long pass just enough to beat goalkeeper Stefanie Turner. The shot rang off the top corner of the goal frame and bounced beyond the end line, pulling the Wolverines even with 40 seconds remaining. It was Stachel’s first goal of the season and a perfect finish for the senior playing her last game at the U-M Soccer Complex.

“Coming into my senior year I wanted to contribute the most I could for this team,” Stachel said. “I wanted to leave my mark.”

Riding the momentum from Stachel’s dramatic tally, Michigan won the game handily in overtime. The Wolverines took four shots in the extra period and found the back of the net in less than five minutes. Senior midfielder Emily Jaffe — who had been rejected on a beautiful save by Turner moments earlier — fired a low shot towards goal. The ball deflected off a defender to Ezurike, who tapped it past Turner for her 14th goal of the season.

“It was (Jaffe’s) hard work that got the goal,” Ezurike said. “It was an easy tap in, but she did the hard work.”

After Ezurike’s tally, the Wolverines poured onto the field, dancing and hugging. Near the visitor’s bench, several Chippewa players silently fought back tears.

“We have nothing to hang our heads about,” said Central Michigan coach Neil Stafford. “We just showed how tough the MAC is and what a quality program Central Michigan is.”

The hard-fought and physical match resulted in two yellow cards, both to Michigan. The aggressive play also led to a frightening moment early in the second half when junior midfielder Tori McCombs and defender Emily Basten collided violently while contesting a header. The referee immediately signaled for first aid as McCombs and Basten remained motionless on the ground, but both managed to walk off under their own power. McCombs did not return to the contest, and Michigan coach Greg Ryan said she may have a concussion.

“It was a horrific play,” Ryan said. “I think there was some real dirty play out there tonight. It’s two teams that don’t like each other.”

Though the Wolverines struggled to capitalize on their early opportunities, Ryan did not modify his attacking strategy, hoping the tying goal would come eventually.

“That was awfully late to put it away,” he said. “Some days you wonder, ‘Is this just not your day?’ Usually you don’t win on days like today.”

But Michigan scored just in time and advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where it will face fourth-seeded Portland in State College, Pa. on Friday.

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