Late in Thursday’s match against Auburn, Texas A&M finally got a two-goal lead it could feel comfortable about.
The Aggies held three two-goal leads, the third coming in the 69th minute on a penalty kick by Jimena Lopez to give A&M a 4-2 victory over the Tigers at Ellis Field.
The penalty that set up the insurance goal also brought out a red card on Auburn’s Bri Folds, who was called for a handball on a Jordan Hill shot off a corner, meaning the Tigers would have to score two goals in 20 minutes while playing with 10 if they were to get any positive result.
“I did [think we had it], I actually did at halftime because I thought we’d be able to sort it out, and it just kind of worked out that we took our foot off the gas and allowed a good team to get their legs under them,” A&M coach G Guerrieri said.
No. 6 A&M improved to 12-1-1 and 3-1-1 in the Southeastern Conference. Auburn, which dropped out of the poll after getting to No. 9, fell to 9-3-1 and 1-3-1.
Auburn’s responses to the two-goal leads took away from the Aggies’ start in which they scored two goals in the first 146 seconds.
Ally Watt made it 1-0 1 minute, 12 seconds in on a cross from Grace Piper. Watt took the ball out of the air, flicking it over the keeper who had come off her line.
“That was a finesse goal, and that’s not always said about Ally Watt because she is so powerful,” Guerrieri said. “So good for her. It was absolutely what she was trying to do.”
Tera Zeimer set up the second goal with a cross that Lopez beat her defender to and toe-poked a shot into the net.
“It was part of the game plan,” Lopez said. “I mean all the midfielders were supposed to move up, and Tera had a great cross in, and the keeper and defender had a little bit of confusion and the ball went through, and I was in the right place at right time.”
Auburn answered quickly, pulling within a goal in the 16th minute when Treva Aycock got behind the back line with a pass from Alyssa Malonson and drilled it past Cosette Morche from 6 yards out.
“One of the things we respect Auburn the most for is they are a hard-working team, and for the rest of the first half they outworked us,” Guerrieri said.
Auburn outshot A&M 8-5 in the first half and had three corners to the Aggies’ none.
Morche had to stretch her 6-foot-2 frame for one of the shots and punch it over the crossbar for a corner. Aycock sent it in, and until the last second, Auburn had to think it had drawn even.
“After getting scored on, it’s frustrating and I didn’t want to get scored on again, don’t want that feeling again,” Morche said. “So it was just my adrenaline rushing and just seeing the ball knowing it was on frame, and I would have to do anything I can, just make sure my body is flying.”
Morche had six saves in all, including one late when she had to dive to her left and punch a ball fully extended to the outside of the post on a shot by Alyssa Malonson.
Auburn had a second chance to pull even after Morche’s first save. Morche had to come out of her net, and the ball fell to Jessie Gerow, who missed the frame from the top of the box.
Addie McCain made the Tigers pay minutes later, firing a shot across the keeper to the far netting from the top of the box. McCain didn’t have to wait long to know what it meant to the team and her personally.
“Everyone from the sideline was yelling the name of the dog,” said McCain, who with her fifth goal — one in an exhibition game — of the season won a dog from her father. “So I thought about it right away, but we had a lot of the game left.”
The name is not set according to McCain but the breed is. After the season, she will be the proud owner of a mini goldendoodle.
Lopez didn’t get anything but insurance for her second goal of the match and her third of the year. She had to wait a long time for the red card to be sorted out and then banged it past Sara Le Beau, who had guessed correctly.
“She did,” Lopez said. “I was just very confident of where I wanted to kick it and it didn’t matter how where the keeper went if it well taken, it will go in. Just don’t second guess myself and strike it hard.”
A&M, which stands in fifth in the SEC, hits the road for a game against Kentucky on Sunday and returns home Friday for a match against No. 25 Mississippi State.
NOTE — A&M earned a team academic award from the United Soccer Coaches Association on Thursday. The squad had a 3.24 team GPA for the 2017-18 school year.