The 14th ranked 49ers left it all out on the field in a nail-biter against North Carolina that ended in a tie after two overtime periods but then fell short in penalty kicks 4-1. It was anyone's game until the closing minutes and another instant classic between these two programs that the 49ers find themselves on the losing side.
After a predominantly North Carolina-driven first half, Charlotte stood firm on the defensive end and ended the half tied at 0-0. Coming out of the second half, both teams played very aggressively, racking up a few penalties. Charlotte had 20 fouls, and North Carolina had 16 on the game.
The contest's first goal did not come until 73:46 into the game, when the Tar Heels striker, Akeim Clark, scored with the assist made by Milo Garvanian. This was Clark's lone goal on the year, and it could not have come at a better time as it put the Tar Heels up 1-0 with limited time remaining.
The 49ers had an answer, though, as Joe Brito scored an unassisted goal in the 84th minute to tie the game up at 1-1. This was Brito's second goal of the season. Head coach Kevin Langan was singing Brito's praises after the game.
"Joe's goal was beautiful," said Langan. "We've been working really hard with him the last two weeks on his delivery, and he took it really well. His shot had a fantastic arc on it."
With limited time remaining in regulation, the game headed to overtime. The first overtime period remained a stalemate as neither team put the ball in the net. North Carolina attempted three shots, two of which were blocked, while Charlotte was unable to attempt one in the first overtime period.
The game was almost sealed by Charlotte forward Preston Popp in the second overtime period as he was able to get a clean shot off that turned just wide and off the left post. This was Popp's one shot of the game as the Tar Heels defense was able to keep the 49ers leading scorer at bay in this game.
Charlotte goalkeeper Austin Mullins was injured during the game's closing minutes, causing him to be taken off the field. In a situation where both teams knew it was likely going to penalty kicks, this was a huge loss for the 49ers. Neither team scored in the remaining minutes, so the game went to penalty kicks.
North Carolina and Charlotte made their first penalty kick, but then North Carolina goalkeeper Alec Smir made back-to-back key saves on shots from Sean Suber and Axel Sigurdson that put the 49ers down, and they couldn't recover. It was a tough loss with some unforeseen circumstances, but coach Langan was not disappointed in his team.
"I'm feeling just sheer pride; we played so well. We asked the guys to be brave today, and I thought we were. I thought we were very, very good," Langan said following the game.
This ends a solid year for the 49ers, ending their season with a 6-3-2 record with several shutouts to boast on the season. With this season now in the rearview mirror, Langan will look to get his troops ready for next season that begins this fall.