Maryland freshman goalkeeper Chris Seitz had taken care of the hard part yesterday, making one save during the penalty kick tiebreaker and possibly getting a touch on another Akron shot that had struck the post.
Marc Burch had the easy assignment: score from the 12-yard spot and send the Terrapins to the NCAA soccer final four for the fourth consecutive year.
"There was zero pressure on me," the senior forward said. "I knew I was going to make it. Just step up, I knew where the goalie was going to go and just put it in."
Burch's shot went one way, Akron goalie Evan Bush went the other and the Maryland student body promptly spilled onto Ludwig Field to celebrate the top-seeded Terrapins' gripping victory over the No. 9 Zips before 4,129 spectators.
The teams had played to a 1-1 tie through regulation and 20 minutes of sudden-death overtime. In the tiebreaker, the Terps were perfect, converting four attempts, while Seitz was beaten just once on three tries.
With that, Maryland's quest for its first national title in 37 years will continue Friday in Cary, N.C., against unseeded Southern Methodist, which upset No. 4 North Carolina, 3-2, in overtime. Clemson and New Mexico will meet in the other semifinal.
"The game rightfully ended in a tie," said Terrapins Coach Sasho Cirovski, who will make his fifth semifinal appearance in 13 years in College Park. "I thought it was a very even game, and it's unfortunate both teams can't advance. I'm very happy that we're the ones advancing. I'm overjoyed."
Maryland (17-4-2) is 10-0-2 in tournament matches played at home the last four years, but yesterday's lively affair was a struggle.
Senior Kenney Bertz provided a 1-0 lead in the 21st minute, pouncing on a poor clearing attempt and striking from 10 yards. But the Zips, the highest-scoring team in the nation, got the equalizer just before the break on Sinisa Ubiparipovic's 17th goal of the year, set up nicely by reserve Justin Sadler.
The second half was excruciating for the Terrapins. Bertz, Maryland's defensive leader, was sidelined in the 54th minute after a head-to-head collision, and his teammates missed three golden opportunities to break the tie, including Jason Garey's threat with five seconds to go.
Meantime, A.J. Delagarza did an excellent job filling in for the burly Bertz, who is expected to be ready for the semifinals.
After overtime failed to resolve anything, the Zips (18-1-4) seemed to have the advantage in penalty kicks after winning in that manner in both the Mid-American Conference tournament final and last week at No. 8 Connecticut.
But it was no contest as Stephen King, Chris Lancos, Maurice Edu and Burch scored easily for Maryland. Seitz wasn't sure if he touched Sadler's effort that hit the post and, after Yohann Mauger scored, Seitz lunged to his right to stop Ossie Michalsen's try.
"We felt good, for sure, coming in, just from having participated in it a couple times this season," Akron Coach Ken Lolla said. "Yet they had the benefit of seeing it."
Maryland had not participated in a tiebreaker since last year, but to prepare for the possibility this season, it had simulated the nerve-racking situation in practice the past few weeks.
"I was just trying to get a read off them, see where they were looking, see where they were setting up," Seitz said. "I got lucky."