Junior centerback Kortne Ford (Greeley, Colo.) got on the end of a free kick in the 89th minute from junior winger Alex Underwood (Winnetka, Ill.) and headed in the match’s only goal to send the Pioneers to their first ever College Cup with a 1-0 win over third-seeded [3/5] Clemson on Friday night in the NCAA Quarterfinals at Historic Riggs Field.
Denver advances to the national semifinal to play the winner of Wake Forest and Virginia Tech next Friday at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas. Kickoff time will be announced by the NCAA tomorrow.
Friday night’s cleansheet is the nation’s lone unbeaten team’s 14th of the season, and the Pioneers’ 20th victory ties a program record from the 1988 season (20-2-2/NAIA). Second year head coach Jamie Franks is now 35-1-6 after taking over for current Wake Forest head coach Bobby Muuss ahead of the 2015 season.
“For us to be able to come to Clemson with as many people rooting against us and for my guys to continue to stand up, their resiliency, their fight and their togetherness makes them a special group,” Franks said. “We’re going to Houston to get a trophy.
“Clemson it is a great team. It was an ugly soccer game, but that’s what the games look like this time of year. They are really good at finding the pockets, but for the most part I thought we neutralized that well and did a good job of keeping them out wide.”
Redshirt-junior Blake Elder (Fort Worth, Texas) had Denver’s (20-0-3) best chance from a scoreless first half, getting free on the top of the box in the 45th minute, but the Air Force transfer’s shot was right at the goalkeeper. Denver took the only two corner kicks of the first half and had a 28-yard free kick just left of center in the opening 45. Clemson (14-4-5) had a 7-3 edge in shots in the stanza.
Underwood was in the left channel for the fifth assist of his 2016 campaign, and played the cross just outside the six-yard box. Ford beat an out-stretched keeper to the ball and ripped the back of the net with his fifth headed goal of the season.
Redshirt-sophomore Nick Gardner (Marvin, N.C.) was called upon to make just two saves on the night, but perhaps none bigger this season than in the 87th minute as he retreated back to his line to push an Alex Happi chance over the crossbar.
Featured Image Credit: denverpioneers.com