What happens when a stoppable force meets a movable object?
The Florida soccer team provided the answer Thursday night, defeating Georgia 1-0 at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville.
UF’s ghost has returned to haunt it just in time for Halloween.
It figured to be a low-scoring affair from the onset. Florida was marred in a four-match scoreless streak heading into the game and hadn’t scored in 10 of its last 13 games. Georgia (4-8-4, 1-5-2 SEC) had fared even worse of late with a six-match scoreless streak of its own.
The Gators (5-8-3, 3-3-2 SEC) broke through early courtesy of Tess Sapone’s first goal of the season. In the 14th minute, Sapone fielded a clever through ball from Mayra Pelayo then beat her defender with her first touch. From there, she just had to beat Georgia keeper Emory Wegener, and she did just that with her left foot from eight yards out. Wegener deflected the shot, but she didn’t get enough of it to stop the ball from trickling into the net.
“Mayra played a fantastic ball across,” Sapone said. “First touch to break the line from me and then pass it into the net.”
There were chances aplenty for Florida throughout the match. The Gators led the shot count 12-5 and probably should’ve scored more than just the one goal. In the 22nd minute, Briana Solis’ free kick from outside the box brought the fans to their feet – until they realized Georgia was taking a goal kick. Solis’ wonder-goal was actually an optical illusion, the ball sailing high of the net and deflecting off the brick wall behind the goal before settling against the netting.
Defender Sara Wilson made a bid of her own in the 37th minute. Dribbling to her left, Wilson’s screamer from just outside the box rattled the crossbar for three or four seconds.
The unsung hero was Florida goalkeeper Kaylan Marckese. Despite only facing five shots in the game, she made two crucial saves in the first half. In the 10th minute, Marckese saved Katie Ralys’ close-range bullet using her face. In the 15th minute, she made another good save off a shot from Jessie Denney. From there, it was mostly smooth sailing.
The X-factor might’ve been forward Deanne Rose. Rose, All-SEC last year as a freshman, didn’t start and was appearing in just her fifth game this year. Injuries and national-team commitments have kept her out of the lineup, but she made her presence felt against Georgia. Though she didn’t factor into UF’s goal, she was all over the pitch, dribbling around defenders and registering three shots.
“She stepped off a plane and played,” Burleigh said. “That’s not easy to do. Credit to her for being willing to do that.”
With just two regular season games left, the Gators have an RPI of just 52 and are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for only the third time in program history. For now, Burleigh is trying to take it one game at a time.
“I’m thinking about Missouri,” she said. “The SEC tournament is a figment of our imagination at this point.”
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano or contact him at [email protected].