The Maryland men's soccer team's sixth Atlantic Coast Conference tournament championship happened after some help from an unlikely source.
Senior forward Patrick Mullins' pass was directed by Virginia senior defender Kevin McBride into his own goal with 2:42 left in regulation to lift the No. 4 Terps to a 1-0 victory over the No. 12 Cavaliers before an announced 4,763 at the Maryland SoccerPlex on Sunday afternoon.
Maryland improved to 13-3-5 and almost assuredly earned a top 16 seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament, which rewards those teams with a bye through Thursday's first-round games. The bracket will be announced Monday at noon on NCAA.com.
The Terps denied Virginia its 11th tournament crown courtesy of a heady play by Mullins, the reigning MAC Hermann Trophy winner.
Mullins carried the ball down the left side of the box and cut back towards the goal. He sent the ball towards the center of the box where McBride knocked the ball past Cavaliers junior goalkeeper Calle Brown.
"If you put the ball in good spots and you play it in there with some pace, good things happen," Mullins said. "It's a tough way to go down, obviously, for them. They worked very hard and were a very capable opponent. But sometimes it's the little inches like that. Nine times out of 10, I felt like they were getting themselves between me and the ball. But as a forward, you live for that one, and I thought we took it well."
Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski was not surprised that it was Mullins who provided the deciding play.
"It was going to take a moment of brilliance by an individual to create something," Cirovski said. "Obviously, the best individual in the land found the will and the skill to create something, and we won."
Virginia coach George Gelnovatch said he would not second-guess McBride's intentions.
"Any time you have a defender running towards his own goal trying to defend, and he comes across the box, and he's not close, it's tough," Gelnovatch said. "It's a tough thing. He probably would have been better off letting it go. But it's a last-second thing when you're facing your goal that close and the ball is coming across, it's hard to get it over or around. That happens in our sport all around the world."
Asked if he talked to McBride afterwards, Gelnovatch said: "He's a big boy. He's OK. He's fine."
The Terps got a boost from their defense. A beleaguered unit that starts two freshmen at center back — Suli Dainkeh and Chris Odoi Atsem — as well as freshman goalkeeper Zack Steffen shut out Boston College, 2-0, in Tuesday's quarterfinal; Clemson, 1-0, in Friday's semifinal; and Virginia on Sunday.
"I'm proud of how much they've learned and digested and how committed they've been to improve," Cirovski said of the defense. "We don't take losing kindly at the University of Maryland, and they took opportunities to get better. This team has really taken on the challenge of getting better. They've shown great humility and great resiliency. … We've been much more connected as a group, and it's shown."
Maryland won despite playing without Schillo Tshuma. The sophomore forward, who ranks second on the team in both goals (six) and points (13), was unavailable due to an unspecified injury. Sophomore David Kabelik started in Tshuma's place and senior Jake Pace (River Hill) also played.
"We've had depth all year, and we've told people that you have to be ready for your opportunity," Cirovski said. "And today, David gave us 25, 30 good minutes, and Jake gave us good minutes, and we rotated some people because you have to play a game within 36 hours after what we had to go through on Friday. This is where depth really matters."