In collegiate soccer’s golden goal, sudden-death overtime, a match doesn’t end until the clock hits triple-zeroes, or until somebody finds the back of the net.
Auburn forward Tatiana Coleman had to remind herself of that toward the end of Thursday night’s classic, double-overtime match against arch-rival Alabama.
Coleman found herself a solid look at a game-winning goal as the final seconds of the first overtime period ticked off the clock — but her shot banged off of the near post, and as the period expired, everything that the Tigers had worked for all season seemed lost.
The victory Auburn so desperately needed was quickly slipping into a tie.
“You have to erase it from your mind,” Coleman said. “You cannot think about it.”
With a tie, the Tigers would have been without a bye in the first round of the SEC tournament, the senior class would have ended their careers at Auburn with a sour Senior Night, and that trophy — “that dang trophy” — would be staying in Tuscaloosa for another year.
Fortunately for Coleman and the Tigers, there was still one more overtime period left to play in the biggest match of year.
“Tears started forming and my eyes closed, like ‘Oh my God, it’s over,'” Coleman said. “I had to say ‘No it’s not, clear your head, it’s going to be fine.’ I had to keep pushing. I just had to keep going and going and going.”
Coleman didn’t stop playing, even after the Tide had come back from an early 3-0 deficit to tie the game, and even when there was less than a minute left to play in the match’s second and final overtime period.
That’s when Auburn goalkeeper Amy Howard turned defense into offense, and booted a save clear over the midfield line and into Bama territory, where Coleman tracked it down off two bounces, and touched it over the Alabama keeper’s head and — an eternity later — into the back of the net.
Auburn won, 4-3, on Coleman’s kick 109:28 into the match — with just 32 seconds left on the clock.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Coleman said. “I can’t even find the words to express how happy I am.”
Howard earned an assist on the score, from all the way back at the goalkeeper position.
“I got the ball in my hands, and I know how fast Tati is, and it just worked out,” Howard said. “It was one of those things that, they were working hard up there and they were working hard the whole game, and finally that one, they made it count.”
The game-winner was Coleman’s second score of the night, after a goal in the 32nd minute gave the Tigers their early 3-0 lead.
“I’m so tired, I’m so fatigued, it’s so late in the season,” Coleman said, “but everybody has bumps and bruises and I know that from last year I learned that you’ve got to play through it.”
Last year, of course, the Tigers brought home the SEC tournament championship. With Thursday’s win, Auburn claimed the sixth seed in Orange Beach, giving the Tigers a bye into the second round and a matchup against third-seeded Tennessee on Wednesday.
“There are no words,” said Howard. “This game is really going to propel us well in the SEC tournament. Now we’ve got to turn around and get focused for a new game, but it’s just incredible to win on Senior Night with this group of girls and this group of coaches on the staff and everything.”
“Pure elation,” said Auburn head soccer coach Karen Hoppa. “It was such a swing of emotions in this game. Everything went our way in the first half, nothing went our way in the second half, and then the overtime was back and forth and could have been either team. And to get that final look, and for that ball to fall on Tatiana Coleman’s foot, and for Amy Howard, the goalkeeper, to get the assist on Senior Night, it was just a perfect ending.”
Auburn jumped out to 3-0 lead early, starting with a 9th-minute, unassisted goal by senior forward Mary Coffed. Coffed scored again in the 27th minute off of an assist in the box from Coleman, and the Tigers were off to strong start.
In the end, that 3-0 lead proved to be too much for the Tide to overcome.
“One of our goals as a team as we huddled before kickoff was to match the intensity and start off really strong,” Coffed said. “I think getting that first goal, I think in the first 10 minutes or so, really just kind of gave us the boost at the start of the game that we needed and we were able to back up that 3-0 lead. That was a really important way to start the game.”
Alabama fought back in the second half with three unanswered goals to force overtime. Theresa Diederich scored off of a corner kick for the Tide in the 55th minute, Merel Van Dongen converted on a penalty kick in the 69th minute, and Laura Lee Smith tied the game in the 79th minute.
Still, Howard held Alabama scoreless through overtime and finished 8 saves on the night.
“I don’t think Howie’s ever got low confidence,” Hoppa said. “She’s got such a great mentality and she knows you’ve got to have a short memory, and the goals weren’t her fault. We had breakdowns in the back and obviously a penalty kick. She did her job, and she gave us a chance to win, and that’s all we can ever ask the goalkeeper. And not only did she give us a chance to win, she gave us the assist on the game-winner, which is pretty special for a goalkeeper any time, never mind on Senior Night.”
The Tigers will now travel to Orange Beach to defend their SEC tournament championship from a year ago.
The tournament begins today with a pair of matchups featuring the 7th-10th seeds. As the sixth seed, Auburn will wait to play until Wednesday in the tournament’s second round.
Kickoff between the Tigers and third-seeded Volunteers is at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday.
“The bye is massive,” Hoppa said. “You can’t win the tournament, I don’t think, by playing on Monday.
“To get that bye gives us a chance to defend our title, and that’s what we wanted.”
TWER photos by Amy Thorington and Abby King.
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