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CLEMSON, S.C. - Creighton experienced another bitter ending to its soccer season with Friday's 1-0 loss to Clemson in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.
The Bluejays gave up the winning goal with 39 seconds to play when Charlie Roberts headed a free kick past Creighton goalkeeper Matt Allen to secure the Tigers' first final four appearance since 1987.
"I couldn't be happier for Charlie Roberts," Clemson coach Trevor Adair said. "For him to get the game-winning goal is poetic justice."
The goal by the injury-plagued senior - Roberts was playing in just his ninth game - put a big hurt on a Creighton team that has absorbed its share of tough-to-swallow losses in tournament play.
A year ago, the Bluejays were eliminated by Maryland in a penalty-kick shootout. They lost to Stanford in double overtime in the national semfinals in 2002. Ten years ago, William and Mary eliminated Creighton with a four-overtime win, and in 1993 the Bluejays had a perfect season spoiled when Air Force won a four-overtime thriller.
But Friday's loss was the topper on the pain scale for Matt Wieland, one of four Creighton seniors who played their final matches before 6,680, the second-largest crowd ever to see a game at Clemson's Riggs Stadium.
"I can't even begin to explain how I feel right now," said Wieland, the team's captain the past three seasons. "To play so hard and to have so much fun over the past four years, and then to have it come to end. It really didn't hit me we were in the locker room at the end, with the guys in tears and exchanging hugs.
"I wish I could do it all over again."
All of the Bluejays were wishing they could have a do-over on the game- winning play, set up when Clemson's dynamic forward, Dane Richards, was fouled just outside the penalty box. Seconds earlier, the ball had been on Clemson's end, with Creighton working for a possible shot.
The Tigers cleared the ball toward Creighton's end, and the lightning-quick Richards blurred up the field with Bluejays' Danny Minutillo and Andrew Peterson in pursuit. Peterson attempted a tackle to knock the ball away from Richards but was whistled for the foul.
Nathan Sturgis set up the free kick, and he served a perfect ball to Roberts, who banged it home for his second goal of the season.
"Giving up a kick like that anytime in the game is dangerous, especially with 40 seconds left and the crowd going crazy," Allen said. "We had our men in position but someone it just slipped through. They had so many corner kicks and other opportunities, and I thought we did a good job of stopping them. But we didn't get that one."
Creighton did get one last shot, pushing the ball forward and getting a free kick from about 30 yards after a Clemson foul with 13 seconds to play. With everyone, including Allen set up around the Clemson goal, Jarod Tarver played a long ball into the box but Tigers goalkeeper Phil Marfuggi came up with a clean kick.
He then launched a long kick downfield as the final seconds ticked off the clock on Clemson's fourth shutout victory of the tournament. The Tigers limited Creighton to five shots, three of which the Bluejays put on Marfuggi.
"Their defense played well," Creighton forward Michael Kraus said. "They were really well organized. That's the best defense we played all year, not only talentwise but the way they communicated. They really looked like they had a feel for each other."
Creighton's defense, which had allowed just two goals in the seven-game winning streak that carried the Bluejays into the quarterfinals, was equal to the task. Clemson managed 17 shots and held a 13-5 edge in corner kicks but couldn't get a ball past Allen until the end.
The game did have a couple of ugly moments, the first when Clemson's Bryson Moore took out Allen as the Creighton goalkeeper moved forward to make a save. Moore's hard tackle sent Allen flipping onto his head, and players from both teams quickly converged and got into a shoving match.
"Supposedly he slipped but the guy undercut me," Allen said. Wieland quickly added: "He didn't slip. We'd seen it on tape at least four times how he liked to do that to other goalies. It was no accident."
Had referee Alex Prus ruled that Moore intentionally tried to take out Allen, the Clemson player could have received a disqualifying red card and the Tigers would have been forced to play the final 23 minutes a man short. Instead, Prus simply called a foul on Moore.
A second pushing match occurred just before Creighton's final kick with 13 seconds as tempers flared after Clemson's final foul. Order was quickly restored and no cards were issued.
After the match, as Warming, Kraus, Wieland and Allen were being ushered to the postgame press conference, a Clemson fan spit on Wieland. The Creighton player was quickly restrained but Warming addressed the issue with the NCAA representative at the game.
Creighton, which finished 15-5-3, had been trying to claim what would have been a fourth trip to the College Cup since 1996. Instead, the dramatic ending put Clemson into the final four for the sixth time but the first since 1987.
"Some people didn't think we belonged here," said Adair, back on the sidelines after missing the third-round win over Notre Dame because of the death of his father. "But our guys never stopped believing in themselves."
Creighton (15-5-3).........................0 0-0
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