Bella Folino’s goal lifts BYU past USC and into the round of 16

The journey continues for No. 1 seed BYU women’s soccer as the Cougars squeaked past No. 8 USC thanks to Bella Folino’s 58th-minute goal, advancing to the round of 16. 

“To be able to get these big wins with the target on our back, to come through the way we have, there’s a lot of confidence in the process,” head coach Jennifer Rockwood said after the game. 

“They play for each other. They want to get back to that final four, and maybe win it all. That’s certainly the goal,” Rockwood added. 

That goal of advancing was still in question for a moment in the first half as the Trojans began the match trading blows with the no. 1 seed in the tournament.

Both teams struggled to find a clinical touch inside the final third, despite taking eight shots each. The Cougars’ four chances on target all came from beyond the 18-yard-box and failed to test Trojans goalkeeper Hannah Dickson. 

Olivia Wade-Katoa provided the spark in the attacking half, looking to inject some life into an uncharacteristically non threatening Cougar offense through the first 45. 

USC’s high press and physical presence kept BYU at bay and seemed to disrupt BYU’s attacking style. 

Coach Rockwood screamed from the sidelines for her backline and midfield to play the ball in behind, but the plea was fruitless.

That aggressive Trojan defense lent itself to an open field for the counterattack, but they also lacked a finishing touch in the final third. 

With the damp conditions at Smith Field, the long-distance method from both sides could have proved tricky for either keeper, especially with a few short hops that caught BYU’s Lynette Hernaez on her toes. 

However, the lack of penalty-area penetration for either side proved to be the difference in the nil-nil first half affair. 

USC’s aggressiveness seemed to wane after the break, and the chippiness from the first half kicked into a new gear down the stretch as Izzi Startton was shown a yellow card for a hard foul. 

The Cougars’ second-half adjustment on offense paid dividends in the 58th minute when Brecken Mozingo centered a pass into the area for Folino, who rifled a shot to the back of the net for BYU’s decisive goal. 

“Their defense was really challenging us, but at halftime we talked about trying to be more direct and getting into the box by moving the ball, getting to the assist zone and getting it wide,” Rockwood said. 

As if it were drawn up on a white board seconds before, the Cougars executed the switch perfectly. 

“Petey (Kendell Petersen) crossed it to Brecken, I found myself open in the middle of the box, took a touch and hit the ball as hard as I could,” Folino said. 

Needing an equalizer in the final minute, the Trojans threw numbers forward and looked to have a case for a penalty in the final seconds. 

A strong BYU tackle left the ball loose inside the box and USC’s Aaliyah Farmer had a chance to stun South Field and send the game to overtime, but her shot glanced off the crossbar for a goal kick.

A no-call from the center referee left the clock ticking down to zero, and BYU scraped past the Trojan’s last-ditch attempt to advance to the next round. 

“It was super chaotic,” said BYU defender Izzi Stratton. 

“The intensity was super high and we were all locked in, and luckily they didn’t score that last one. It was a good look, and my heart definitely dropped a little, watching it go over was a good feeling for sure,” Stratton added. 

USC finished the night outshooting the Cougars 16-15, meaning the shutout victory served as a testament to BYU’s defensive showing in limiting the Trojans’ high-probability chances, and a good performance from Hernaez in goal. 

“Our commitment as a team to defend was the difference,” Folino added. 

“We busted our behinds to get behind the ball and not allow any good opportunities.”

Back-to-back clean sheets for the Cougars through the first two rounds of the tournament set them up for a Round of 16 matchup against fifth-seeded Michigan State on Saturday at 6 p.m. MT, once again in front of an expected sellout crowd at South Field.

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