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Monday, October 02, 2023

Survive and advance: Florida’s late equalizer and penalty shootout win help sink Vanderbilt

The Gators scored with two minutes remaining in regular time before winning the match in penalties

Florida senior Taylor Baksay competes during a Sept. 23 game against Vanderbilt.
Florida senior Taylor Baksay competes during a Sept. 23 game against Vanderbilt.

Amber Nguyen stepped up to take Vanderbilt’s fifth and final spot kick, needing a goal to keep her team’s season alive. She aimed for the top right corner, sophomore goalkeeper Alexa Goldberg dove, but Nguyen’s kick went wide. After a late equalizer in regular time, Florida had stormed back to knock off the defending Southeastern Conference champion Commodores.

The first half of Sunday’s match passed without incident for either squad, as Florida registered just three shots on target to Vanderbilt’s one. The Commodores held the slight edge in possession in the first period with 55%, and both teams were happy to enter the half with the score still level.

Vanderbilt seized control of the game early in the second half, repeatedly threatening the Florida defense with intelligent build-up play and heavy possession.

With 20 minutes to play, Vanderbilt’s Madison Elwell finally broke the deadlock with a much-deserved goal from long range to put her Commodores in pole position to advance in the SEC tournament. 

Elwell dribbled down half the field with her eyes locked toward the goal. Realizing she had space, she loaded up and drilled a shot just above Goldberg’s outstretched arms.

The time seemed to be expiring on Florida’s season. But, with two minutes remaining, the Gators’ attacking stars found an answer.

Graduate forward Kit Loferski received the ball on the right side of Vanderbilt’s final third, dribbled to the endline and chipped a cross across the box. Graduate forward Madison Alexander stood there to receive it, but before the ball could even reach the Gators striker, Vanderbilt’s center back headed the ball into her own net to gift Florida a late equalizer.

Time expired on regulation, and the Gators season was still alive heading into overtime. 

The first half of OT featured end-to-end attacking play as both teams desperately sought a game-winning goal. Neither found the net, and the match entered the final 10 minutes of play before penalties.

In the second period, fatigue had clearly set in between the two hard-working squads and clear chances were hard to come by. The 20 minutes of OT concluded, and Florida headed to penalties with its season in the balance.

Vanderbilt and Florida traded penalty goals for each of their first two attempts before Vandy midfielder Abi Brighton sent the Commodores’ third shot wide right. Junior midfielder Cameron Hall scored the next penalty to give Florida the advantage with two kicks remaining a piece.

After Florida converted its fourth spot kick, Vanderbilt’s Nguyen missed the target to send the Gators into a celebratory frenzy.

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The Gators advance to face the No. 2-seeded Tennesssee Volunteers in round two of the SEC tournament on Tuesday at noon. The match can be streamed live on SEC Network+.

Contact Ryan Zehnder at Follow him on Twitter @ryan_zehnder.

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