As the final seconds ticked off the clock Sunday, Oct. 27, between the Elon University women's soccer team and Samford University, 31 fouls had been called, five yellow cards had been issued and the two teams finished with a 1-1 draw. Overshadowing Elon's senior day was the questions of what really had just happened.
"It's hard when games like that are so weird with fouls and ref problems but we went down and played our game and didn't give up," said senior forward Catherine Brinkman, who was one of eight seniors honored prior to the game. "But we gave a great team effort. I'm proud. Obviously you want to get a win on senior day but the effort that everyone put out there for us was great."
Because of the draw, Furman University clinched the Southern Conference title with its win against Davidson College. Had Elon topped Samford, the Phoenix would have entered the final match of the season against the University of North Carolina at Greensboro still in contention for the title. Entering Sunday, Elon and Furman were the only two teams that could win the championship.
After a scoreless first half that got a bit chippy nearing the break, the Bulldogs broke through on a corner kick in the 63rd minute when Malcanisha Kelley got on the other end of the service and put it past sophomore goalkeeper Sydney Branson. Branson seemed to have the ball corralled, but with the help of the linesman, the attempt was ruled a goal.
In the 71st minute, sophomore forward Nicole Dennion whistled a shot wide of goal that would've been tied the game. She leads the Southern Conference with 13 goals this season.
In the 75th minute, Brinkman almost tied the match, but the header deflected off the post and went wide.
Two minutes later, Brinkman did score the equalizer after a penalty kick was called as senior midfielder Kimmie Krauss was brought down in the box. Brinkman calmly put the penalty in the back right corner.
"I just wanted to calm down. That was it," Brinkman said. "PKs for me, it's not the pressure as much as it's me being relaxed and taking just like it took it yesterday in practice. In practice, I take them every time just like it's the winning or tying shot. So i just tried to slow down my breathing and focus and I did my little pattern step I always do and just hit it."
As the fouls mounted, neither team could break through for the game-winner.
"Both goals were a little questionable in how they developed," said Elon head coach Chris Neal. "It was a bizarre game. There were a lot of confused players and coaches."
Elon used just seven subs in the match after using double-digit subs in every other match this season. Neal was not happy with the second and third phases of substitutes Oct. 25 against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, but punishment for poor play was not the motive against Samford as much as it was a respect for the Bulldogs and it being senior day.
"We didn't use a lot of players today because quite frankly, we have a lot of respect for the athleticism of Samford," he said. "Samford has some athletes that a lot of teams in our conference do not have so if we had gone extremely deep on our bench today, we just weren't comfortable with the athletic matchups. Plus, it was senior day so we wanted to try to keep as many seniors on the field as possible. (Senior defender Olivia) Mackey gave everything she had and had be to subbed a couple times. Kimmie gave everything and had to be subbed once at the end of the first half. The seniors expended a whole lot of energy on the field today."
Now, a win against UNCG Wednesday, Oct. 30, in the regular season finale would give Elon the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. That would give Elon its first-ever home game in the quarterfinals of the tournament. Before the season, Elon was picked to finish fifth in the conference.
"The fact that we could get our first home game for the quarterfinals every and to have another home game when this was supposed to be our last, it feels good to have the chance," Brinkman said. "It stinks that Furman clinched and those hopes are gone, but it doesn't change us needing to beat UNCG and us wanting to be at home again."
The Phoenix take on the Spartans Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Greensboro, N.C.