Oct. 28, 2012
LOS ANGELES - An hour before the San Francisco Giants began their celebration, the Stanford women's soccer team began one of its own, after stunning undefeated UCLA with two late goals to win its fourth consecutive Pac-12 championship.
Goals by Chioma Ubogagu and Rachel Quon within 72 seconds of each other late in the second half rallied No. 1 Stanford past No. 2 UCLA, 2-1, before 4,068 at Drake Stadium on Sunday night.
Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe described it as "a College Cup atmosphere," which added to the significance of the victory.
"The way they responded after being down a goal showed the character of this team - that everyone rallied together and found a way to win," Ratcliffe said.
Stanford (16-1-1 overall, 10-0 Pac-12) handed the nation's only remaining unbeaten team its first loss and extended its conference winning streak to 41, the third-longest in NCAA Division I history, while beating the Bruins for the sixth consecutive time.
Quon scored the winner at 78:04 after moving into central midfield from her defensive position in an effort to boost the attack when the Cardinal was pushing for the equalizer.
On the winning sequence, a high cross by Laura Liedle, who moved to Quon's vacated spot at right outside back, found Ubogagu on the left side. Quon took a short pass in the box, but her initial shot was blocked back to Ubogagu, who sent in another quick pass.
This time, Quon settled it with her right foot and swung with her left, pushing the ball across the face of the goal and inside the right post from 10 yards out. It was the second goal of the season for Quon and the fifth in the collegiate career for the team captain and four-year starter.
Quon also factored in Ubogagu's goal that tied the match at 76:52. With Ubogagu pushing the ball forward in space, Quon made a run off the left flank that drew a defender off the sophomore forward. Ubogagu then calmly placed a low left-footed shot inside the right post from 22 yards.
"I thought Rachel had one of the best games I've ever seen from her," Ratcliffe said. "She was amazing on offense, and on defense, even though she was playing against one of the best attacking players. She did it all."
Quon and Pac-12 goal-scoring leader Zakiya Bywaters staged a memorable duel, with both assigned to the same side of the field. Bywaters took six shots and tested Stanford goalkeeper Emily Oliver with a vicious strike that seemed headed for the net, only for Oliver to parry it away.
But it was Quon's dynamic and aggressive play on the offensive end that ultimately made the difference. UCLA had allowed only six goals all season and had the nation's lowest goals-against average (0.36) entering the match. Stanford now accounts for 25 percent of all goals scored against the Bruins this season.
"Going down a goal created an urgency in the team," Ratcliffe said. "We were no longer tentative."
UCLA (15-1-2, 8-1-1) took the lead in the 49th minute by taking advantage of a Stanford defensive giveaway. A shot inside the box was blocked by Quon, but went directly to Taylor Smith, who hit a right-footed shot inside the left post.
Though that shot escaped Oliver, no others did, which was a credit to the junior who made several spectacular saves in the second half, including a diving two-handed deflection off a cutback shot by Chelsea Cline that could have tied the score.
The action was superb and the match well-played - a contest that more than lived up to the buildup between the two best teams in the nation with a championship on the line.
Stanford is one victory from completing its fourth consecutive perfect conference season - with a regular-season finale at Cal on Sunday -- but already has captured its ninth Pac-12 title since the conference began sponsoring women's soccer in 1993.
"I'm so happy for the entire team," Ratcliffe said. "And I'm happy for the seniors who got to finish their four years with a conference championship."
With that, Ratcliffe summed up all the feelings -- the joy and the pride -- in one sentence. And it was something the Giants could appreciate too.
"It was a special night," he said.