On the spectrum of winning and losing, all the way in the farthest direction toward losing, there are heartbreaking losses. Then, past that, there is what the Wisconsin women’s soccer team endured Friday night at the McClimon Soccer Complex. With only one second left in double overtime, Nebraska struck following a set piece from just outside the 18-yard box, leaving the Wisconsin players and coaching staff bewildered.
Only just moments before the game-winning play by the Cornhuskers, the Badgers were on the cusp of winning the game themselves, as Wisconsin forward Cara Walls had a run down the center of the field into the 18-yard box. Walls had escaped several Nebraska defenders and found herself one-on-one with the Nebraska goalkeeper Emma Stevens. After firing a shot inside the top of the box that was blocked away by Stevens who was off her line, Walls went for the loose ball in the box, but as she did so, she appeared to get impeded by Stevens.
However, no call was made by the officials and just seconds later Nebraska found itself just outside its offensive 18-yard box when Wisconsin defender Ali Heller pulled down a Cornhusker player, trying to prevent a last second shot. It appeared that time was going to run out, but a free kick was awarded with three seconds left to play.
Nebraska’s Caroline Gray netted the golden goal on the ensuing free kick, a play which Wisconsin goalkeeper Genevieve Richard described after the game.
“The only thing that I saw was the ball curving in behind the wall and the striker was there and I thought she was going to deflect it because it was quite low, but she totally, completely ducked and it just went over her and it went through my legs,” Richard said.
After falling in an early 1-0 hole only seven minutes into the game – Nebraska scored on a penalty kick – Wisconsin battled back to equalize only 20 minutes later. A cross from Wisconsin forward Kinley McNicoll was headed on net by Lindsey Holmes. Holmes’ initial shot was saved by Stevens, but Walls found herself alone right in front of the net and slipped the ball home to tie the game.
Then, for the rest of the game, Wisconsin stuck right with the Big Ten’s number one team. And according to Badgers’ head coach Paula Wilkins, she thought her players had done enough to knock off the first place Cornhuskers.
“I thought the kids battled. They stuck to the game plan that we were trying to do. It worked out pretty well,” Wilkins said. “Obviously, it’s hard to do that. A lot of them are battling physical ailments right now and I’m proud of the way they fought through that. I thought that they created enough chances to win the game,” Wilkins said of the 25 shots Wisconsin recorded in the game.
Even with all those shots, Wisconsin and Nebraska combined for only three second half shots on goal, with no offensive production for either team.
But when the overtime periods rolled around, the game began to heat up, as Wisconsin had three shots of its own on goal in the a little less than 20 minutes of total overtime play.
The physicality also ramped up a notch as the Badgers were whistled for two yellow cards and a red card in the second overtime, the red card coming on Kylie Schwarz in the 108th minute, forcing Wisconsin to play with one less player.
Despite being marred by controversy, Nebraska still took advantage of the late opportunity and sent Wisconsin to the bitter double-overtime defeat.
“It’s one of the most shocking losses that I’ve had in my career as a coach and that’s 20 years,” Wilkins said.
“I thought it was a great game. I thought we had a good plan for Nebraska and I thought it worked quite well. It’s just hard and I think we have to refocus again for Sunday.”