Soccer

UF goalkeeper Susi Espinoza puts down a goal kick in Florida’s win against Georgia. She had four saves over the course of the game.

Cameron Hall pounded the ground in frustration. Her golden opportunity to grab a late winner against the No. 8 team in the nation fell harmlessly into Georgia goalkeeper Emory Wegener’s arms as the crowd put their hands behind their heads in the stands of Donald R. Dizney stadium.

After a long-awaited return to SEC soccer, UF earned a point in a gritty 1-1 draw against the Georgia Bulldogs. 

Florida looked dominant and controlled possession throughout the first half, as No. 8 Georgia was largely content to let the Gators be on the ball. 

However, UGA generated the better scoring opportunities in the first 10 minutes. An effort in the seventh minute was deflected, ultimately falling comfortably into the arms of UF’s senior keeper Susi Espinoza. A minute later, Espinoza was nearly caught off her line, as a long-range effort from Georgia forward Mollie Belisle was fired just over the goal.

Despite their methodical buildup, the Gators’ 12th-minute breakthrough came from a direct play. Junior defender Georgia Eaton-Collins played a long ball up from midfield, finding senior Deanne Rose behind the Georgia back three as she managed a tidy finish into the left side of the goal. Florida, 1-0.

UF had an opportunity to double its  advantage three minutes later, as Eaton-Collins rose for an uncontested header but failed to make contact. 

Florida continued to look for a second goal, as a 22nd-minute free-kick fizzed just wide of the left post. Four minutes later, a UF corner was kept in the danger area after a poor punch. The Gators were ultimately denied by the strong right hand of Wegener.

UGA grew into the game in the last 15 minutes of the first half. Georgia’s Weldon Korker took a left-footed effort that narrowly missed the top right corner, and a 38th-minute strike had Espinoza at full stretch, as Abby Boyan just fired outside of the left post.

Ultimately, UGA was gifted an equalizer off a poor pass across the back line. Georgia forward Chloe Chapman intercepted the pass around midfield and was clear on goal. She fired a left-footed effort past Espinoza to tie the game at one with five minutes remaining in the first half.

UF was certainly the stronger team through the first half, maintaining 72 percent possession and creating better opportunities. 

The Bulldogs came out of the locker room displaying intense pressure that echoed from their 1-0 upset victory last weekend against South Carolina. The Gators struggled to keep possession and committed several turnovers in their defensive third. 

A sloppy back pass from Florida’s Laney Steed five minutes after the break led to a UGA chance from ten yards out. Espinoza was able to do just enough to force the shot wide, keeping the game tied at one. 

Espinoza came to the Gators’ rescue once again in the 63rd minute as Georgia attacker Kayla Bruster was left unmarked at the back post. Espinoza got down to her left quickly, pushing the ball away from the danger area. 

Coach Becky Burleigh praised her keeper for this save, describing it as a game-changing moment. 

Burleigh mentioned that her team was prepared for the Bulldogs to transition from a mid block into a higher press, and eventually, Florida adapted to Georgia’s pressure. In the 70th minute, the Gators forced a pair of smart saves from Emory Wegener.

Rose found herself in space after running behind Georgia’s left wing back and center back, but she held onto the ball too long as Wegener was off her line quickly enough to snuff out the opportunity. Shortly after Alivia Gonzalez turned her defender and struck the ball towards the bottom corner. Wegener made an excellent save, forcing the shot out for a corner and kept the game tied at 1-1. 

With overtime looming, both teams played positive soccer and looked for the win. The best opportunity from this spell came in the 82nd minute as UF piled on the pressure and fired a shot just over the crossbar. 

It appeared that Florida found the winner with just 15 seconds remaining in overtime, as Cameron Hall found herself with an open header ten yards from goal.

She skied her effort and Georgia escaped to Athens with a point, marking the first time the Bulldogs have earned a result in Gainesville since 1995.

UF will host Alabama on Oct. 4 at 5 p.m., where Coach Burleigh expects to see an improved performance. 

“It was a really physical game, I think there were like 20 fouls, which isn’t really our style of play, and the fact that we were able to step up and handle that says a lot about our team,” Burleigh said.

“We need to improve upon our technical ability and tactics and build momentum in a real week leading up to a game. That’s going to be so nice.”

The Alligator initially reported that Kouri Peace had a breakaway opportunity in the 70th minute. Deanne Rose had the opportunity.

Contact Declan Walsh at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @dawalsh_UF.