IRVINE, Calif. --- UC Irvine ended its NCAA Tournament drought in spectacular fashion as senior Christopher Santana broke through with two seconds remaining in regulation to send Anteaters into the next round with a 1-0 victory over the 2011 College Cup champion Tar Heels of UNC Sunday afternoon at Anteater Stadium.
A defense-laden match began to open up late with both offenses scrapping to drive home a late dagger and avoid overtime. No. 12 UCI (15-4-3, 7-2-1) had a pair of chances early in the half as Lester Hayes III ran onto a ball and put it on net in the 54th minute, but UNC keeper Brendan Moore deflected it away.
Enrique Cardenas would keep the pressure on turning a free kick on goal that Moore would fumble, but control in the 58th minute to keep the scoreless tie.
The rest of the half, along with most of the entirety of the match, was playing in the middle third as possession was key to each squad's strategy, however, the 'Eaters would gain the edge late.
With time winding down, UCI drove forward, and Michael Sperber led the attack. As he came upon the 18-yard box, he found Christopher Santana to his right. Santana received a pass and fired beating the keeper and finishing inside the left post. The 1,133 in attendance looked back at the towering scoreboard clock at the other end of the field to read 89 minutes and 58 seconds on it giving the Anteaters the go-ahead goal with two seconds left in regulation and a ticket punched to the third round.
UCI's defense was up to the task once again today with its third straight shutout and did not allow a shot on goal. Michael Breslin played his part in net capturing his 10th shutout of the season while extending his scoreless streak to a season-high 348 minutes.
Santana's goal was his sixth of the season and third game-winner. Cardenas and Sperber chimed in with well-deserved assists; for Cardenas, his team-leading seventh, while Sperber recorded his first career point.
UNC (9-6-5, 4-2-5) played a solid match as well holding the 'Eaters to just eight shots. Brendan Moore came into the match with a 0.59 goals-against-average and came up with two fairly difficult saves.
UCI's march continues into the round of 16, a place they have been to once in their existence and have not been to since 2008. The No. 12 national seed will travel to the University of Maryland to face the No. 5 national seed Terrapins on Sun. Dec. 1. Game time has not yet been determined. Be sure to follow ucirvinesports.com for the latest updates on the team's NCAA postseason run.