Wild sequence in second half lifts Texas soccer to comeback victory over Gonzaga

Evan Vieth, Soccer beat reporter

Late heroics and streaky scoring provided the Longhorns with a comeback win against Gonzaga on Sunday in Spokane, Washington.

After finishing with a tie against the Oregon Ducks on Thursday, the Longhorns looked for redemption against Gonzaga at Luger Field. Texas, however, started this game like how it ended the one against Oregon: sloppily. 

Gonzaga quickly took advantage of the Longhorns’ defense. Just two minutes and 40 seconds into the match, Gonzaga winger Giana Riley made a slick move to get past fifth-year defender Emma Regan, nutmegging her and setting up sophomore forward Marissa Garcia for an easy volley past graduate student keeper Savannah Madden.

Though Gonzaga didn’t pressure the Longhorns defense much more in the first half, the Longhorns struggled to break through the Zags’ defense. Both teams ended the half with just two shots on target, with the Longhorns’ second coming in at the very end of the first half.

After an odd deflection in Gonzaga’s half of the field, senior forward Teni Akindoju found herself one-on-one with Gonzaga’s senior keeper Lyza Bosselmann. Akindoju got Bosselmann off balance, but the experienced goalie directed the shot just left of the goalpost, ending the half with the Bulldogs up 1-0.

The second half began similar to the first, with Gonzaga’s pressure leading to another goal. The Bulldogs kept up the pressure to start during the first 11 minutes. Another promising attack placed junior forward Maddie Kemp and senior attacker Erin Healy on the left side of the box, surrounded by Longhorns. Kemp laid a short pass off to Healy, who proceeded to float a chip shot right over the hands of Madden. 

Gonzaga’s second goal of the game was another masterful buildup, and suddenly the Longhorns were down 2-0 with 34 minutes left to play.

Sophomore Trinity Byars, who was placed on last week’s Top Drawer Soccer’s National Team of the Week as an honorable mention for her two-goal game against Florida, took matters into her own hands just one minute later.

After a short pass from sophomore midfielder Jilly Shimkin, Byars took the ball onto her left foot and struck it towards Bosselmann, who got a hand on the strike but couldn’t prevent it from falling into the back of the net. Suddenly, the Longhorns were back in it.

The 66th and 67th minutes were two of the oddest ones of the young season. A corner kick from sophomore midfielder Lexi Missimo looked like it was the equalizer for Texas, as the ball somehow managed to find the back of the net. The referee, however, emphatically signaled no goal, leaving both sides confused about the result.

An injured Bosselmann was being checked out, and sophomore defender Emily Cox was awarded a yellow card for her challenge on the goalkeeper. After play resumed, Texas went from being tied to having one of its best players on a yellow for the remainder of the game.

This didn’t stop the Longhorns, however; 30 seconds later, the ball found its way again into the back of the net. Byars, sophomore midfielder Ashlyn Miller and freshman forward Liz Worden all put shots on goal.

After multiple deflections and a lay-off from Miller, Worden poked the ball between a defender and Bosselmann, narrowly slotting into the back of the net and giving the Longhorns the chance to take the lead just 10 minutes after going down 2-0.

And take the lead they did. In the 74th minute, a misplay from the Gonzaga defense led to a corner kick. With every single Bulldog in the penalty box, a perfect kick from Miller left Cox with a bit of space to shoot. After a bounce, Cox winded up and blasted a ball that hit the bottom of the crossbar and in, with no chance of a save from the Bulldogs’ keeper. 

Cox leaped into the air right at the penalty spot, showing the emotion that helped bring the Longhorns to last year’s Big 12 Championship game. The newly energized Longhorns surrounded the defender in an embrace, now ready to keep the lead and win what seemed like a lost game just 18 minutes previously.

The final 15 minutes were filled with many nail-biting opportunities, including two crosses that nearly resulted in goals with just 30 seconds left in the match for the Bulldogs. 

Savannah Madden stepped up in the latter half of the game, saving everything that came her way and denying every opportunity Gonzaga created. Despite Gonzaga’s late chances, Texas ended its road trip with a win in Spokane. 

The Longhorns will be back in Austin on Thursday, Sept. 8 to face Utah State at Mike Myers Stadium. They will play four more home games over the next two weeks before starting Big 12 play later this month at TCU.