For months, BYU senior forward Carlee Payne Holmoe could be found on the Cougar soccer practice field working on her penalty kicks. With each kick, she probably envisioned a possible moment when she could be called on to decide a game.
Possibility became reality Thursday night at South Field — and Holmoe was ready.
With just 44 seconds left in a scoreless second-round match against Auburn in the NCAA Women’s College Cup, the senior placed the ball on the penalty spot, approached a rocketed a perfect shot into the lower-left corner of the goal to score and eventually give BYU the 1-0 win.
“Right when the referee called the penalty kick, I was very excited — and then I was so nervous because I knew that was me,” Holmoe said. “Setting the ball down, instantly I had tingles in my fingers. I was nervous, knowing what was on the line. But I’d practiced a lot and felt like I could kick it where I wanted to.”
The senior said she placed the ball right where she wanted it to go and the end result was a wild celebration.
“It was one of those moments I’ll never forget,” Holmoe said. “I had tears of joy. My teammates were just so happy that we had 40 seconds until we won.”
Cougar head coach Jennifer Rockwood said having Holmoe be the hero and help the team advance was very fitting considering all that the senior has done during her time in Provo.
“She has been a big force for this program for her four-year career,” Rockwood said. “It’s very deserving that she was the one who took us on her shoulders and came through when we really needed it as she has done so much in her career.”
The dramatic conclusion was a tough blow to the visiting Tigers, who had battled the No. 2-ranked Cougars for nearly 90 minutes and until that point had kept them off the scoreboard.
“BYU played a great game tonight,” said Auburn head coach Karen Hoppa. “I thought the effort from our team was tremendous. It’s a very, very unfortunate way to end a great soccer game.”
Rockwood said it had been a contest in which her girls had created a number of opportunities but hadn’t been able to finish them.
“I thought we played really well and doing the things we had talked about,” she said. “But we were just six inches to a foot off stride. We were so close. We didn’t get as many shots off as we typically do but the balls we were serving across the goal were so dangerous.”
BYU junior Cloee Colohan said she felt she’d just been a step slow on a couple of chances but kept hoping for one more shot.
“We knew it was coming,” she said. “Late in the game, we were really pushing to get a goal and I just couldn’t find the back of the net. I was a little off today, but thank goodness Carlee came through for us.”
The best Cougar opportunity of the night (before the penalty kick) came in the 13th minute of play when BYU junior midfielder Rachel Manning had the ball bounce to her at the top of the box.
She launched a shot on frame, but Tiger senior goalkeeper Amy Howard was able to lunge and push it out of bounds.
As the game progressed, the Cougars continued to drive forward but Auburn’s defense withstood each test.
“I thought we came out really strong in the second half and put tremendous pressure on them,” Rockwood said. “All of our girls were really battling hard.”
But BYU’s backline allowed the Tigers very few opportunities to seize control of the game.
“Defensively we were really solid,” Rockwood said. “We didn’t allow Auburn to turn. We knew they were a great counterattack team, so we wanted to make sure we were not letting the counters go. I thought our backline did a fantastic job.”
The only really dangerous Auburn look came in the 40th minute on a miscommunication between Cougar sophomore keeper Erica Owens and freshman defender Paige Hunt.
Instead of letting the ball roll to Owens, Hunt tried to clear it only to see it bounce to Tiger freshman forward Alexa Allen. Allen’s hurried shot was still within Owen’s reach and she knocked it clear.
That kept the game scoreless until the final minute, when BYU had a thrown-in deep in Auburn territory. The ball came to Cougar freshman forward Michele Murphy, who was tackled from behind just inside the penalty box.
That gave BYU the penalty kick that turned out to be the game-winner. The Tigers desperately tried to get into scoring position in the final seconds but there proved to be too little time.
With the win, the Cougars advance to the round of 16 where they will face No. 4-seed Marquette. The Golden Eagles defeated Princeton, 3-1, in the first game at South Field on Thursday.
“They are a fantastic team that has had a lot of success,” Rockwood said. “They’ve won a championship and they played a tough schedule this year. We know they are well-coached and have great athletes. We’re excited. We’ve worked hard to be able to be at home and we look forward to playing at South Field again.”
No. 1-seed BYU will host Marquette at 5 p.m. on Saturday at South Field with the winner advancing to the Elite Eight next week.
Daily Herald sports editor Jared Lloyd can be reached at 801-344-2555 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed on Twitter at @JaredrLloyd.