Two key saves by goalkeeper Andrew Epstein gave the Stanford Cardinal a shootout victory over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the College Cup, handing the Cardinal their second national championship in as many years Sunday.
They became the first team to win back-to-back titles since the Indiana Hoosiers did so in 2003-04.
Just like in the semifinals, Stanford held its opponent to a scoreless draw through regulation and extra time, leading to the all-important shootout.
Epstein saved a potential title-winner in the fifth round of kicks and then stopped the next shot he faced to clinch the victory for his squad.
NCAA Soccer shared the game-winning moment as the Cardinal won the 5-4 shootout:
Will Parchman of MLSsoccer.com provided his thoughts on the goalkeeper's play:
Epstein didn't allow a single goal from live play in the entire NCAA tournament. Per Stanford's team account, this is the third team to accomplish this feat after Wisconsin in 1995 and San Francisco in 1976.
Unsurprisingly, the junior and several Stanford defenders highlighted the all-tournament team:
Andreu Cases Mundet of Wake Forest was also outstanding in the match, with the two goalies combining for nine saves through 110 minutes of action.
However, one team was slightly better and took home the title:
Although there were no goals in the early going, Stanford appeared to be in charge in the opening minutes while controlling most of the action.
Corey Roepken of the Houston Chronicle described the start of the match:
Wake Forest finally cracked the Cardinal back line and got some good looks at the net. The best opportunity for either team in the first half was this shot by Ian Harkes, via NCAA Soccer:
Harkes finished the day with four shots, two on goal, but like everyone else, he couldn't score. The two sides went into intermission at 0-0 after an entertaining 45 minutes.
The game progressed with plenty of excitement. There was no scoring, but it wasn't the product of bad offense. Each goalkeeper played a key part in keeping the ball out of the net.
Joshua Koch of the Associated Press described the action:
Stanford came the closest to getting onto the scoreboard in the 72nd minute, when Cases Mundet stopped a potential goal that needed to be reviewed.
NCAA Soccer shared the replay:
The official decided there was no goal, and the match continued scoreless.
After 90 minutes, the game went into extra time, which Paul Carr of ESPN Stats & Info noted hasn't seen a lot of action historically:
That didn't change Sunday, as the sides remained scoreless.
It all came down to penalty kicks, which gave Stanford the advantage as the experienced team. While Wake Forest took the early lead, Epstein came through in the clutch to put the Pac-12 squad over the top.
Stanford is forming a bit of a dynasty with back-to-back championships. Although the squad wasn't the most dominant in the country over the course of the season, the players came through when needed to bring home the title.
With a winning culture now ingrained, the Cardinal could be contenders again in 2017.
In a game where any one mistake could have meant a loss, Stanford coach Jeremy Gunn knew what made the difference.
"We can never promise to play perfectly, we don't expect to," Gunn told the media after the game, via NCAA Soccer. "But our boys, they promise to work hard, they promise to compete, they promise to keep fighting, and I think they really did that today."
On the other hand, Wake Forest coach Bobby Muuss believed the physical play made a difference in a match that featured 40 fouls.
"Give Stanford a lot of credit," Muuss said. "They imposed themselves on us."
It was clear the game went the way the Cardinal wanted, and ultimately, that might have made the largest impact.
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