As the Indiana players hooted and hollered at midfield, celebrating a 1-0 victory over Georgetown on Sunday for their eighth NCAA men's soccer championship, the Hoyas began to come to terms with the end of a wondrous season.
Goalkeeper Tomas Gomez fell face-first, not a soul within 30 yards. Defender Tommy Muller sat on the field, running through his mind the last-minute header that had struck the intersection of the crossbar and right post. Brian Wiese, who had guided a middling program to a record number of victories and its first College Cup appearance, consoled his players, one by one, from sideline to penalty area.
In the lower sections of Regions Park, dozens of Georgetown students, tapped out after a 12-hour overnight bus trip, stood in silence behind the west goal.
The third-seeded Hoyas (19-4-3) had ventured three stages further in the NCAA tournament than ever before, using comebacks and penalty-kick tiebreakers to defy expectations. But with a chance to win the university's third NCAA championship in any sport, they felt the effects of Friday's physical and emotional semifinal upset of No. 2 Maryland and labored most of the afternoon.
Nikita Kotlov scored in the 64th minute, the result of Gomez's indecision, and the 16th-seeded Hoosiers (16-5-3) endured Muller's threat to win their first title since 2004.
"If you had asked me freshman year that we would have been playing in the national final," senior midfielder Ian Christianson said, "I would have laughed at your face."
Interjected Wiese: "So would I."
In the 60-year history of the program, Georgetown had participated in the NCAA tournament just three times before this season. In recent weeks, the Hoyas had displayed the character and perseverance of a seasoned program, coming from behind three times to extend an improbable season.
In the finale, they manufactured two quality opportunities in the first half but lacked their typical rhythm and grace, resulting in their first scoreless effort in more than two months. Indiana was sturdy and composed in recording its third consecutive 1-0 victory.
The Hoyas didn't make excuses — "Indiana was just better," Wiese said — but the lack of attacking energy could be tied to the semifinal marathon.
"It was 110 minutes and it was 110 mph," Wiese said of the 4-4 thriller decided on penalty kicks. "Indiana pressed us really well. They were very good from an energy point of view and we didn't have the legs that we normally have."
Predictably, this was not the free-spirited affair the Hoyas enjoyed Friday. Space and time on the ball were limited and Indiana was much more organized than the Terps.
Although Indiana dictated terms in the first half, the Hoyas tested Luis Soffner. The senior goalkeeper reacted quickly to smother Tyler Rudy's one-timer from the top of the box and thwarted Brandon Allen's bid from close range.
In between, Gomez made an outstanding one-on-one save on A.J. Corrado, who had taken the ball from defender Cole Seiler.
Early in the second half, just as the Hoyas were beginning to find their way, the Hoosiers went ahead.
Patrick Doody rushed to the end line and served a high cross toward the back post. Gomez committed to the ball but failed to reach it. He was stuck in no man's land. Eriq Zavaleta, a 6-foot-1 target forward, won the header and nodded the ball back into the middle for Kotlov, who tapped into an open net for his ninth goal of the year.
"The ball drifted into the air for quite a while and their keeper was hesitant," Zavaleta said. "I was in a tough angle to finish it, but I saw Nikita run into the box."
Wiese, a former goalkeeper, empathized with Gomez, crediting the sophomore with a tremendous season that included two saves in Friday's tiebreaker. But he also realized Gomez had made a costly mistake.
"It's hard on Tomas because he will take a lot of responsibility for that," Wiese said. "It's a ball that, as a goalkeeper, if you come for it, you have got to take it."
In the round of 16 against Syracuse, the Hoyas had scored in the 85th minute to force overtime and ultimately penalty kicks.
But their comeback bid on this day was undermined by fatigue and blocked by the mistake-free Hoosiers.
Even so, after a pair of saves by Gomez kept them in it, the Hoyas stirred one last time. On a long free kick, Muller headed the ball over Soffner. At first, it appeared to be sailing high, but the ball began to dip, and as Muller turned to look, it struck the framework with 68 seconds remaining.
"I saw it dropping and thought it was going in," he said. "It ended up going the right way but not good enough."
The Hoyas will graduate only four regulars, and although star junior Steve Neumann might be lured by MLS, they appear on course to become a consistent Top 25 program after decades in the shadows.
"We have the second-place trophy," Wiese said. "It's one of the sourest things you can look at, but I know that, given some time, it's going to be something we really treasure as a great accomplishment for the program."
Notes: Neumann, who posted a hat trick against Maryland, was named the final four's Most Valuable Offensive Player. Soffner won defensive honors. Neumann, Gomez, Muller, Christianson and Maryland's Patrick Mullins and Schillo Tshuma were named to the All-Tournament team. .... PPL Park in Chester, Pa., home to Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union, will host next year's College Cup.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun