Goalie Ken Bernstein of George Mason University remembered looking at the clock and thinking, "These are going to be the longest 30 minutes of my life."
But however trying it was for Bernstein and his teammates today, it was nothing compared with the pain experienced by Virginia. The sixth-ranked Cavaliers attacked relentlessly and skillfully in the second half, but a magnificent defensive effort by George Mason preserved a 1-0 victory in the South Atlantic regional championship of the NCAA soccer tournament before 2,924 at Scott Stadium.
"If this had been basketball, we would have won by 30 points," said Virginia Coach Bruce Arena, whose team defeated George Mason, 3-2, last week in the final of the Virginia state championship. "Out of 25 shots (to George Mason's six), we probably had 15 great shots. But it's fate. It happens."
Tenth-ranked George Mason (19-1) advanced to the third round of the tournament against No. 1 Duke, which defeated Clemson, 2-1, on penalty kicks. The date and site are expected to be announced Monday.
After midfielder Adolfo Alvarez volleyed on a set play off a throw-in with 3:08 gone in the second half, the Patriots eschewed all but the most obvious opportunities on offense and fell back on defense. With Virginia (16-2-2) attacking nonstop, the strategy nearly backfired.
"It's kind of rough to stall for 41 minutes," said Bernstein, who earned his 15th shutout of the season. Said defender Scott Shiffert, "We were lucky as hell. They were flying in there."
Again and again, Virginia applied pressure. A goal on a header by Brian Vernon with 38:54 left was disallowed because he was called for charging Bernstein. Ten minutes later, midfielder Matrk Brcic was just wide of the left post on a 25-yard shot.
In the last 10 minutes, the Cavaliers had three more excellent opportunites. Jeff Gaffney and Mike Schnabel just missed on headers and, with 5:17 left, Alvarez left his man to make a hard tackle on Schnabel, who had been wide open for 20 yards.
Nearly every statistic would indicate marked superiority by Virginia. The Cavaliers had 10 corner kicks to George Mason's two. Bernstein made 10 saves, many of them difficult; his counterpart, Steve Baer, made four and was seldom challenged.
George Mason, in fact, seemed lost at times, particularly on offense. Playing on artificial turf for the first time this season, the Patriots had trouble controlling the ball and getting off good shots.
"On artificial turf, particularly with it being as wet as it was because of the rain, you've got to concentrate on restarts (free kicks and throw-ins) and counterattack," said George Mason Coach Dick Broad. "They dominated after the goal, but that often happens in soccer, anyway."
For Alvarez, just playing was something of a triumph. He had sprained his right ankle a few days before and seriously considered sitting out the game.
"After the first half, I didn't think I could go back again," he said. "But then I thought, 'I'm a senior. This is my last chance.' The ankle hurts now, sure, but it was worth it."