NEWTON, Mass. -- Boston College versus Boston University was a game the numbers suggested never should have happened in the first round of the NCAA tournament. As if to underscore that point, the second-seeded Eagles found themselves on the verge of elimination after playing the first half like a team expecting the kind of free pass favorites often receive on the first day of the tournament.
Boston University played like a team that deserved to play another game.
Only by playing the second half like a team capable of playing five more games did Boston College survive.
Trailing 1-0 with less than 15 minutes to play, Boston College leveled the score on a miraculous goal from Victoria DiMartino. Less than five minutes later, Julia Bouchelle headed home a cross from Kristie Mewis for the final margin in a 2-1 win. The victim of several late comebacks this season, Boston College turned the table with 45 minutes of physical domination and a few seconds of individual brilliance.
For much of the first half, it didn't look like the seeded team was going to get a chance to make a comeback. Boston University was the better team from the outset, controlling possession, winning far more 50-50 balls than that moniker would suggest and asserting itself physically against an opponent used to playing in the rough and tumble ACC, widely regarded as the best conference in the country this season, if not every season.
The opening goal was a perfect demonstration of why the Terriers felt justifiably slighted in finding themselves drawn against a No. 2 seed in the first round. No other team ranked in the top 50 of the final publicly released RPI drew as tough a tournament assignment (in fact, at No. 44 in the RPI, the Terriers were the strongest team by more than 40 spots drawn against one of the tournament's top eight teams). And when Terriers midfielder Krista Minto delivered a strike of a cross to Tiya Gallegos at the edge of the 18-yard box, from whence Gallegos eventually scored after her first shot was blocked, they looked like a team worthy of the stage.
By the end of the half, Boston College had five reserves on the field and the look of a team that didn't so much wake up on the wrong side of the bed as fall out the bedroom window. There were some tactics discussed during the break, including the move from a 4-4-2 formation to a 4-3-3, but much of the message delivered had to do with the urgency of the moment.
"We needed to address the issues tactically first," BC coach Alison Foley said, listing some of the points of emphasis in limiting the Terriers' control of possession and shifting to a 4-3-3 formation. "But I'd also say there was certainly some emotion and energy in the halftime talk. I'd also say our assistant coach, Sarah Dacey, had a few words that certainly, I think, right before the entrance on the field lit a good fire underneath the players, as well."
That it was Mewis and DiMartino leading the charge that followed, a wave of energy that left the Terriers unable to maintain the kind of possession they needed to keep their own legs, is no surprise. Foley has built the Eagles into the premier women's soccer program in the Northeast by filling out a roster deep enough to compete with the likes of North Carolina and Florida State each week. But quantity is only part of the equation. Part of being a team capable of competing for a championship is finding the few individual players who are simply better than anyone with whom an opponent can counter.
DiMartino admitted her intent on the tying goal had been a cross to the far post, but it takes a rare measure of skill to be able to make a mistake like the one that led to a ball released almost even with the end line, eventually curling into the side netting at the far post. The best player on the field in taking -- and largely creating -- four of Boston College's seven shots, Mewis likewise set up the winning goal with a burst of creativity to shake multiple defenders, gain the end line and deliver a world-class cross to Bouchelle's head.
"I think in times like these, in your biggest games, your special players rise to the occasion," said Foley, whose Eagles advance to play Hofstra, a team they beat 5-0 in August, on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. "And I think you saw that in tonight's game. Kristie Mewis and Vicki DiMartino, to have two players like that -- that when things are tight can separate themselves above the opponent individually the way that they can and take the game on their shoulders. Julia's goal was beautiful, but the creativity and the ability to get in behind two players and drive a beautiful ball across the way Kristie did is something only Kristie Mewis can do. I think that what I was really happy with -- is that our special players did rise to the occasion."
The equalizer ended a six-match goal-less streak for DiMartino, who had what coach and player described as a "heart to heart" conversation earlier this week about what the team needed from her and the coaching staff's confidence in her ability to deliver.
"It's hard when we're not getting the result and we're losing 1-0 because I'm a forward; it's my job to score," DiMartino said. "Defense, their job is not to let a goal go in, but it's hard when we're playing against top teams. We've got to do the job on our end, and finally we got the job done this game. It feels good to have it pay off."
In the end, it was left to Boston University to play the role of valiant loser that eventually brought out the best in Boston College. Terriers coach Nancy Feldman was gracious in refusing to hand out blame for the draw, instead acknowledging the difficulty of constructing a 64-team bracket with regional considerations. But the quality of the performance in defeat spoke volumes about how well Boston College had to play to escape its rival.
"It's one of the best teams we've ever had here," Feldman said. "It kind of snuck up on me. They definitely will go down in history as one of the best teams we've had here. We thought we had a team that could go a couple of rounds into the NCAA tournament. And I think we do; I think it was a tough first-round matchup -- for both BC and BU."
It was a game to remember, even if it was a game that shouldn't have happened.