Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Men's Soccer at Graveyard

The stage was set. Over 3500 fans were in attendance. Both teams were unbeaten in Metro Conference play. South Carolina was ranked #1 in the country. They'd won 16 straight games. Charlotte was ranked #12 and had enjoyed a 12-game win streak that had carried them into the top 10. It was Nov. 6, 1994 -- and it was arguably the greatest regular-season performance in 49ers history.

The Gamecocks were 16-2 overall, ranked #1 and playing at home, in the appropriately named "Graveyard" -- where visiting teams went to die.

The game had star power: Charlotte all-America Mac Cozier (pictured with Metro Championship trophy after the game). South Carolina all-America Clint Mathis.

And as the last conference game of the year, it was for all the marbles. Conference Championship at stake. NCAA Tournament berth at stake. The game had everything you could want.

Mathis scored first, posting the Gamecocks to a 1-0 lead midway through the first half. The 49ers were able to answer with an important goal just before halftime when Chan Roush headed in Brian Wilson's cross with under two minutes to play.

Midway through the second half Charlotte's Matthys Barker nailed a header towards an empty net -- forcing South Carolina defender Sigmar Scheving to make the hand save -- earning an automatic ejection and giving the 49ers a penalty kick. Calm, cool and collected midfielder Randy Sheen converted the PK to put Charlotte up 2-1 at 66:22. Just over three minutes later, the 49ers banged home the dagger.

Cozier, as he had so many times in his career, broke free past one defender and fed a low pass to Dan Westwater in front of the goal. Westwater, solidly, knocked it into the back corner. 3-1. Ballgame.

I still have that photo outside my office. Westwater running away from the goal, hands raised. Ball bouncing in the back of the net. Mathis headed dropped. Crowd of 3552 hushed, save for the many 49ers fans that made the trip.

Tonight, the 49ers head to South Carolina. It's early in the season and the two teams are no longer conference foes. But for those who know their history -- this game is big. And for the 49ers, who returned to the national rankings last year, this game is a chance to give those championship aspirations wings, once again.

I remember it like it was yesterday. And it's good to have that same fire burning.

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