BYU’s offense came alive in the second half of its Sweet 16 match with fifth-seed Michigan State Saturday night at South Field, as the Cougars picked up a 3-1 victory over the Spartans.
The No. 1 seeded Cougars scored all three goals after intermission, propelling them into the Elite Eight.
“I’m proud of the way we battled,” BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood said. “It wasn’t an easy game for us. We were out of our comfort zone a little bit because of Michigan State’s pressure and their ability to move the ball, but the girls, I thought, stuck with it.”
After BYU scored 11 goals in its three contests leading up to the NCAA tournament, the nation’s No. 1 goal scoring offense had slowed down a bit.
The Cougars had used a pair of shutouts and just three goals in the first two rounds to advance to the Sweet 16. On Saturday, the Cougars did not secure a shutout, but they didn’t need it.
Neither team got on the board in the first half, going into the break tied at zero. Both schools had opportunities to score in the opening half but were unable to capitalize on them.
BYU had three shots on goal and earned three corner kicks, while Michigan State had two shots on goal and no corner kicks in the first half.
In the second half, all of that changed. Michigan State drew blood first, getting a 1-0 lead in the 52nd minute on a right-footed dart from senior midfielder Gabby Mueller.
“I think everyone (on our team) believed that we would find a way to score,” Rockwood said. “We’ve been scoring all year long.”
BYU did just that, evening the match just minutes later on senior forward Brecken Mozingo’s penalty kick in the 55th minute.
Mozingo said she was motivated to help her team play a better second half after a scoreless first.
“There’s two different periods and I wanted to make sure that we as a team came out and had energy to win that next period,” she said.
The senior from Sandy wound up being huge to the Cougars winning the second half. After that first goal, Mozingo got BYU on top with a steal and a second goal in the 60th minute — this time finding the back of the net from the top of the box.
“Postseason soccer’s a fragile thing,” Michigan State coach Jeff Hosler said. “Once you give a team like BYU that many chances, they’re going to find ways to capitalize.”
An experienced Cougars squad took advantage of their chances Saturday, just two days after squeaking past No. 8 seed USC to advance to a third consecutive Sweet 16.
Last year, it wasn’t so sweet as BYU fell to North Carolina in Chapel Hill. This year, playing in front of a sold-out, Cougar-friendly crowd of 3,695, BYU had a much different result from a season ago.
“Last year we were one of the top teams in the country in creating opportunities, we just weren’t putting those in,” Rockwood said. “We have players coming off the bench who can score. We can score in lots of different ways. … I believe we have the deepest bench we’ve ever had on a BYU team.”
The Cougars’ third goal came from reserve sophomore forward Ellie Walbruch, who headed in a Mozingo corner kick in the 80th minute. From there, BYU held on for the two-score victory.
The win gives the Cougars their fifth all-time Elite Eight appearance, with three of those now coming in the last five seasons.
BYU awaits a familiar foe, no matter the result between No. 3 seed North Carolina and No. 2 seed Texas Tech, which battle Sunday for a chance to meet the Cougars at South Field.
BYU will face the victor Friday at 6 p.m. with a berth in the national semifinals on the line.