But Scott Goodwin smothered the first two Bruin penalty kicks, and Kirk Urso, Drew McKinney and Ben Speas did the rest to send the Heels to Sunday's final.
And their opponent will be the unheralded in-state compatriots, the 49ers of UNC-Charlotte who beat highly regarded Creighton on penalties as well, but after a 0-0 stalemate.
It was a hard, physical game in Hoover, Ala. that nonetheless saw several moments of marvelous quality. Four goals were scored, and all were humdingers.
In the 17th minute, UCLA's Ryan Hollingshead launched a left-footed rocket from nowhere (actually, about 25 yards out) that sailed over the head of Goodwin, who was off his line, before dipping under the bar. UCLA 1-0 UNC
In the 56th minute, UNC's Speas charged to the byline and lofted a cross into the middle of the box, where Rob Lovejoy, hurtling in from the right, rose to meet the ball in a brave header. UCLA 1-1 UNC.
In the 74th minute, Bruin standout Kelyn Lowe broke into the box after receiving part 2 of a delightful give and go with Chandler Hoffman and flicked the ball over Goodwin's head again, in a top-class effort. 2-1.
In the 85th minute, UNC's superb midfielder Enzo Martinez—one of the brightest stars in college soccer—lashed a nasty, goal-bound jaw-dropper from at least 30 yards that UCLA keeper Brian Rowe pawed away, but only to the far post. The ball bounced invitingly across the face of the goal and Billy Schuler swooped in and put it away. 2-2.
The one-two combination of Martinez and Schuler must have impressed the numerous MLS scouts reportedly in attendance. Both juniors are projected to be drafted high in the first round in next month's MLS SuperDraft. Martinez's effort, in particular, was world-class.
Kirk Urso nearly won it at the end of
regulation the second overtime period, but Rowe pawed it around the post, a marvelous save that sent the game into overtime.
After an (otherwise) uneventful 20 minutes, it was time for penalties. UNC coach Carlos Somoano was seen leaving the field for the dressing room, presumably too nervous to watch. But it was over quickly. Goodwin stopped the first two with ease while UNC converted their first two. A Bruin goal and a Schuler miss followed, before the fourth UCLA player missed the target completely. All that was left was for Speas to deliver the coup de grace.
UNC plays UNC-Charlotte on Sunday at 4 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU and webcast on ESPN3. The 49ers play in the Atlantic 10 conference and are ranked No. 14 in the nation.