Once ahead by two goals, the Kansas soccer team had one thing in mind as it neared the final whistle against No. 7 USC: Just hang on.
The defending National Champions had pulled within 2-1, the eventual final score, on a penalty kick in the 74th minute. Six minutes later they were on the doorstep once again.
USC midfielder Leah Pruitt headed a ball down toward the net from five yards out. It snuck by goalkeeper Maddie Dobyns, who had entered the match preserving a 381-minute shutout streak.
The crowd at Rock Chalk Park fell silent, the antithesis of the press box, where a lone voice rang out.
“Stop the clock,” an athletics member directed, normally signifying a goal had been scored.
Only it hadn’t.
Amanda Rooney, a USC forward, slapped the ground in frustration — somewhat humorously mirroring the response of KU’s Lois Heuchan, who watched the play from the sideline.
Dobyns raised her head, her dark hair making way for the ball. It was in her arms, not the back of the net.
“When she got up, I saw the big smile she was trying not to make,” said forward Katie McClure.
“Maybe a little one,” Dobyns admitted.
To the surprise of just about everyone, less the seven players who surrounded the goal, Dobyns had kept the ball out.
How exactly? Let her explain.
“(Pruitt) headed it down. It hit straight on the top of my wrist, kind of backspun, stayed in bounds, luckily, and I just scrambled to grab it,” Dobyns said. “It was a nifty play.”
Dobyns, who saw her 455-minute scoreless streak come to an end on the USC penalty, finished off the match to seal the win.
She was officially credited with two saves, none bigger than her miraculous stop in the 80th minute, but managed to knock several dangerous passes away from an aggressive USC front that at one point threw four forwards into the attack.
“This is the best I’ve ever seen her play,” KU coach Mark Francis said. “I was pretty happy when she turned around and had (the ball) in her hands. Not gonna lie.”
While Dobyns executed on all cylinders, so did the rest of the team.
The Jayhawks jumped out to a 1-0 advantage in the 13th minute as McClure tapped in a cross from Grace Hagan at the near post. McClure jumped into Hagan’s arms in celebration of the goal, admittedly one she struggled to recall after the match.
“I wish I could remember it,” said McClure with a smile. “(It means) everything, just to be able to beat a defending champ. To get a goal against them is unbelievable.”
The Jayhawks (5-1) caught a break with time winding down in the first half. USC’s Alex Anthony found some space behind the KU defense and powered a shot into the back of the net, but she was flagged for offside. The call appeared to be incorrect.
KU doubled down on that fortune in the 66th minute, as USC defender Ally Prisock passed the ball back toward her keeper, who let it slip by for an own-goal.
“We got a little lucky there because we got caught on the wrong side of the kid, defensively,” Francis said of the offside call. “It was a good learning lesson for us.”
Certainly one that was easier to swallow with a win.
As the final seconds ticked off, the KU players hugged one another on the field. They formed a mob in front of the KU sideline, dousing themselves with their water bottles. Some 60 yards away, a much quieter USC (2-1) side plodded back toward its own bench.
Luck, nifty plays, whatever it was — the Jayhawks escaped with their fifth win in a row on Sunday. And after falling to a ranked Nebraska squad in lopsided fashion in their season opener, they appeared much closer to the side picked by the coaches to finish second in the Big 12.
"We've got a lot of young players, and I think the first half of the first game, we're down 2-0 against Nebraska, I think it was all a little overwhelming for them," Francis said. "We knew some things from that game we had to get better at. ... The learning curve, especially with the younger players, has been really good."