Blais of glory: Bulls beat Lobos, reach Elite Eight
TAMPA -- In front of a record crowd of 3,592 fans, USF senior goalkeeper Chris Blais blocked New Mexico's seventh penalty kick, giving the Bulls a 6-5 victory in shootout to advance to the NCAA Elite Eight for the second time in four seasons.
USF (13-3-4) handed the Lobos (18-0-4) their only setback of the season -- officially a tie in the scorebook -- after a scoreless regulation and two overtimes. The seventh-seeded Bulls will play at second-seeded Creighton on Saturday afternoon for a spot in the NCAA College Cup Final Four.
USF and New Mexico both hit their first two penalty kicks, with Lucas Baldin and Trey Perry converting for the Bulls. Dom Dwyer, the Big East's Offensive Player of the Year, saw his shot blocked by New Mexico's Victor Rodriguez, but Blais returned the favor, blocking New Mexico's Blake Smith on the next shot.
For the next three frames, USF and New Mexico both converted -- Ashani Fairclough, Leston Paul and Kevin Olali all making good on their kicks -- and then coach George Kiefer turned to reserve Santi Alexis, who hadn't played during the course of the game. Alexis made his kick, and then Blais stopped the shot from the Lobos' Carson Baldinger.
New Mexico's Rodriguez and James Rogers were assessed red cards after the match and ejected -- officially, Rodriguez for "fighting after game" and Rogers for "ref assault and violent conduct."