Meggie Dougherty Howard raced down the right side of the field and into Florida Gulf Coast’s penalty box as teammate Samantha Chung sent her a through ball from 30 yards away.
The senior midfielder, playing in what could potentially be her final collegiate game, caught up to the pass with ease and blasted a shot by goalkeeper Melissa Weck into the upper left corner of the net.
“It was just a great ball by (Chung),” Dougherty Howard said. “She pretty much handed me that goal on a platter.”
The score was crucial for the No. 1-seeded Gators (16-4-1), as it would ultimately set the tone for a series of second-half goals in UF’s 3-0 victory over the FGCU Eagles (14-5-1) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday night.
Playing in front of a crowd of 1,132 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium, Florida shut down Florida Gulf Coast’s offense from start to finish, including FGCU star forward Tabby Tindell. Tindell, who ranked second in the NCAA in career goals and points among active players, was held to a meager one shot on the night.
As a whole, UF limited the Eagles to two shots, one corner kick and no goals, securing its fifth shutout over its past seven matches.
“A lot of credit goes to them because they just put us under pressure right away,” FGCU coach Jim Blankenship said.
Offensively, the Gators dominated time of possession, taking 22 shots including 12 on goal. But they struggled to get on the board early, as both teams headed to halftime scoreless.
In the 66th minute, things changed when Dougherty Howard capitalized off of Chung’s precise pass to give Florida a 1-0 lead. Twelve minutes later, freshman defender Julia Lester charged up field and notched an unassisted goal to increase UF’s lead to two.
Senior forward Savannah Jordan then completed the Gator’s scoring run in the 82nd minute, as she scored her 81stt career goal off an assist from sophomore midfielder Mayra Pelayo.
“I think our ability to stay composed and stay relaxed in spite of not scoring … that was really important,” UF coach Becky Burleigh said.
Florida now moves on to the second round of the NCAA Tournament where it will host Wisconsin on Friday at 7 p.m. The Badgers defeated Marquette 1-0 in their first round match on Friday.
UF has advanced through of the second round of the NCAA Tournament each of the past two seasons.
Contact Dylan Dixon at Ddixon@alligator.org and follow him on Twitter at @dylanrdixon
UF midfielders Meggie Dougherty Howard (28) and Mayra Pelayo celebrate after Pelayo scores the first goal in Florida's 5-2 win against Iowa State on Aug. 19, 2016, at James G. Pressly Stadium.