TEMPE, Ariz. — “U of A!” chants echoed throughout Sun Devil Soccer Stadium as the final seconds of regulation ticked away.
They grew louder and louder and louder as ASU fans quietly headed for the exits.
“I would be mad if they did that in my stadium,” quipped Arizona midfielder Kelcey Cavarra. “But it’s not going to happen.”
Because if there were any doubts about who has the upper hand in this rivalry, the Wildcats put them to bed Friday.
Morgan McGarry scored early and Arizona used a suffocating defensive effort to beat the Sun Devils 1-0 in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
It was the Wildcats’ third straight win over their in-state rival, the longest streak in program history.
“That was our plan, just to press the whole time, make sure we never let off them,” Cavarra said. “They didn’t have time to breathe.”
Arizona (12-5-2) limited ASU (10-6-1) to nine shots and virtually zero viable scoring chances, maintaining possession far more often than not. UA coach Tony Amato thought it was his team’s best defensive performance all season.
The Sun Devils had won four straight entering the night.
“We were trying our best to make the field as small as possible and fly at the ball,” McGarry said. “We came out on the right foot and it looked exactly like we wanted it to.”
McGarry supplied the offense in the 7th minute by slotting a corner kick after two Wildcats nearly scored on the play.
Kennedy Kieneker fired the initial shot, but an ASU defender blocked her attempt at the goal line. Samantha Falasco somehow managed to ring the rebound off the crossbar and the ball ricocheted right to McGarry for an easy finish in front of the net.
“(Amanda) Porter had a great ball in, Sam got her leg over her head it seemed like to try to keep the ball in, it hit off the post, and I was just in the right spot at the right time,” McGarry said.
Someone had to be. There were red jerseys everywhere.
“(Assistant) Paul (Nagy) does a really good job of setting them up in the right spots where we want them for the set pieces and then the players have to carry it out,” Amato said. “And on that goal there were four people swarming around the goal.”
The magnitude of the win goes beyond the rivalry. It also served as one last résumé booster for Arizona, which now expects to host the first round of the NCAA Tournament next weekend. They entered 27th in RPI.
Meanwhile, ASU, a bubble team, will be sweating it out come Selection Monday.
The Wildcats knew what was at stake and had a productive week of practice leading up to the match, per multiple accounts.
Boy, did it show.
“There’s thousands of people here, it’s a rivalry game, (ASU) has to win to go to the tournament, we need to win to secure a spot, there’s a lot on the line, everyone in the department wants the Territorial Cup point, there’s all those external factors and the ability of the team to play within themselves, keep focus on the right things that relate to winning and get a result, that’s what stands out to me,” Amato said.
Every win is notable, Amato said, but it was special to hear UA fans make their presence heard in Tempe.
“We always laugh when we see (Arizona) basketball at the Vegas tournament or when they’re in the Bahamas or at away games and you hear the U of A chants, and it was cool to be a part of that,” he said.
Amato told his team to enjoy the night and awarded them the next two days off to recoup and recover before postseason preparation begins Monday.
They can hardly wait.
“If you win, you move on. You lose, you’re done,” McGarry said. “So you give it your all every single practice, every single game because it could be your last.
“We’ve been working since July to get to this point and now it’s a brand new season.”