BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — For 63 minutes and 38 seconds, the tension built among the 5,159 people in attendance at Armstrong Stadium on Friday night.
One second later, it erupted when Indiana’s Austin Panchot put a pin in the Notre Dame balloon.
Panchot headed home a cross from Andrew Gutman in the 64th minute, and the Hoosier defense made it stand up for a 1-0 victory over the Irish and a return trip to the College Cup, the program’s 20th all-time.
Top-ranked and second-seeded IU (20-2-1) will face a familiar foe in Big Ten rival Maryland, the No. 11 seed, at the national semifinals in Santa Barbara, Calif., but Friday was just about getting there ... again.
“It’s relief right at the whistle, like game’s over, we did it,” said Gutman, one of Indiana’s two MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalists. “But for me, my mindset kind of switches to next week, who are we going to play? Enjoy tonight but tomorrow we get back to work, start breaking down Maryland and start getting ready for California.”
The eighth-largest crowd in school history propelled the Hoosiers to the finish, but in the first half Indiana struggled to find its rhythm, narrowly avoiding going down a goal.
“I think we were trying to make too many big plays for the crowd, because it was just a massive crowd of support,” Gutman said. “I don’t think we were playing our game in the first half. In the locker room we just kind of took a deep breath and were like, ‘Look, we’ve got to play better and we’ve got to connect passes.’”
The Irish (11-7-3) almost cashed in on that impatience in the 27th minute when a cross from the left wing found the head of Sean MacLeod, who sent the ball back across the goal only to see goalkeeper Trey Muse, IU’s other MAC Hermann Trophy semifinalist, make a one-handed save at full extension to push it wide.
A follow-up fell in front of the goal but was ultimately deflected wide by freshman center back Jack Maher.
The Hoosiers knew they dodged a bullet.
“Thank God,” Panchot said of his reaction. “That was a helluva save. It always gives us confidence when we know Trey can do that, but it was a good wake-up call, something where we knew we needed to raise the level, because we shouldn’t be giving up those opportunities.”
When all was said and done, each team finished with four shots in the opening 45 minutes, while the Irish had two corner kicks to Indiana’s none.
The second half started a little bit shaky when a turnover gave Notre Dame’s Thomas Euland an uncontested look from 20 yards out that went wide left, but it was the last shot the Irish would attempt.
The IU defense locked down from there, and the offense steadily gained traction.
“Congrats to Indiana, I thought they played an excellent match,’’ Irish coach Chad Riley said. “We wish them the best moving forward.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my team tonight. I thought we were excellent. We were unfortunate not to convert a couple of chances and we overall limited Indiana to a few chances and obviously they converted one. There is nothing our team should hang their head about. It was a good performance and a very strong season.’’
In the 64th minute, Trevor Swartz sent a pass to Gutman racing around the left side of the defense, and IU’s leading scorer sent a laser across the mouth of the goal with Panchot waiting at the back post to head home the ball from point-blank range.
“Luckily, I got around the edge and just whipped it across blindly, and Panchot was right there to tap it home,” Gutman said. “… Once we got that goal, we weren’t giving up a goal.”
Swartz was credited with an assist, his 16th of the season, tying Armando Betancourt for third-most in a single season at IU.
If anything, the Hoosiers were unlucky not to add a second goal as they ramped up the pressure, while Notre Dame could not find a way through an IU defense determined to record its fourth straight shutout and grab its 20th win, the most in a season since 1999.
“I felt like we get one, we’re going to win the game,” IU coach Todd Yeagley said. “I felt like one was all we needed.”
Now all Indiana needs is two more wins to claim the national championship that eluded it a year ago.