El Paso, TX — Senior Azia Nicholson scored her team-leading fifth goal of the season (93:04, OT) to propel UTEP past Southern Miss, 1-0, in overtime at University Field Sunday afternoon. It was an incredible effort across the board for the Miners (8-3-1, 1-1-0 C-USA) to shut down the Golden Eagles (6-3-3, 0-1-1), who entered the match with the top-ranked offensive attack (3.70 goals per game) in the nation.
UTEP played to its strengths to dominate all facets of the game but USM forced overtime on the combination of strong goaltending by Brittany Taylor and some fortuitous breaks. Taylor was credited with six saves in the match in a sparkling performance but she was bailed out twice by the cross bar while a header by Angela Cutaia was saved on the line by a USM defender.
The visitors had no such luck in the extra session, with the Miners breaking through just 3:04 into the first of two potential 10-minute golden goal stanzas. Cutaia was credited with an assist on the match-winning sequence, flicking it ahead to Nicholson. Taylor flew off the line to deny the senior’s first shot but Nicholson stayed with it and headed the rebound home into the empty net.
The majority of the match was contested in USM territory, evidenced by the Miners holding advantages in corner kicks (7-1), shots (19-5) and shots on goal (8-2).
Sarah Dilling registered a pair of saves en route to recording her fourth and the squad’s overall fifth shutout of the season.
“We played really good soccer today,” UTEP head coach Kevin Cross said. ”I’m glad it finally paid off to get a goal. I’m really proud of them. The defense played well against one of the top attacks in the country”
The Miners were knocking on the door in the opening minutes of the match, with a bad pass by USM being picked off by Jade Babcock. She attacked and did well to anticipate Taylor leaving her line with a chip shot that cruelly clanked off the crossbar in the fifth minute of action.
Two minutes later UTEP earned a corner that resulted in an opportunity for Aleah Davis, but she couldn’t muster much on it to make it an easy save for Taylor. With UTEP keeping play deep in USM territory, the visitors resorted to much more physical play. On separate occasions within a three-minute span, Nicholson was taken out in the box on slide tackles but there was no whistle.
UTEP continued to possess, using crisp passes to create quality looks. Nicholson found herself at the top of the box with space to shoot, and her try bested Taylor only to hit the bar and sail out of play at 22:17. In the 26th minute the Golden Eagle defense backed off Mackenzie German, daring her to shoot. The junior complied with a rocket that was scooped up by Taylor.
USM generated its initial shot on goal in the game in the 33rd minute, with a long-distance try by Danica Roberts. Dilling tracked it the entire way and calmly caught it for the save. The Orange and Blue quickly re-established position deep in USM territory. Cutaia received a feed deep in the area but her shot was blocked away brilliantly by the USM defenders and then cleared.
Good work on the end line resulted in a corner in the 38th minute. There was a brilliant service by Tayler O’Hayre that found the head of Cutaia, who put great pace on it. It seemed destined for the back of the net but a USM defender was there to make the team save on the line in the 39th minute. Tori Martyn blasted a shot four minutes later but it was off the mark.
It was a similar story in the second half, with UTEP out-shooting USM, 9-3. Senior Gina Soto redirected a chance that Taylor alertly grabbed at 47:28 while German was stoned at 54:04. O’Hayre was turned away at 60:42.
There was a good service in the 81st minute but Taylor, as she did several times in the match, navigated through the high-volume traffic in the box to cleanly grab the cross. Short and decisive passes led to an outstanding opportunity for German three minutes later.
She one-timed a bouncing ball from about seven yards out but it sailed over the bar.
The Miners recorded two more shots in the waning seconds of regulation, both of which were blocked by the USM defense.
There was a tense moment in first minute of overtime with a rare good look for USM. A cross found the head of Somer Jones deep in the UTEP box but she sent it just high. UTEP didn’t allow any more chances, and the duo of Cutaia and Nicholson sent the faithful home happy three minutes later.
The Miners will continue C-USA action when they play at UAB at 6 p.m. MT Friday and new league member FAU at 11 a.m. MT Sunday, Oct. 6.