Gator Soccer Defeats Miss. State on Senior Day

The stage was set.

The stands were packed for the senior day festivities, as eight Florida seniors were appearing in their last regular-season home game.

It was a beautiful fall afternoon, with the temperature hovering around a comfy 73 degrees, and not a cloud in the sky.

The only thing to top the day off was a win, and that’s what the Gators got, in dramatic fashion.

Florida beat Mississippi State 1-0 on sophomore Mayra Pelayo’s 81st minute game winner to move to 12-4 overall and 7-3 in the conference, while Mississippi State is now 6-11 overall and just 1-9 in SEC play.

Pelayo was active early on in the game, as the Gators enjoyed control of the match for large spells at a time, and played most of the game in Mississippi State’s half of the field right from the very beginning.

The first twenty minutes saw Pelayo have influence down the right side. She made overlapping after overlapping run, and sent numerous dangerous crosses into the box as a result of the Gators aggressiveness in attack and crisp passing in their build-up play. The most dangerous opportunity resulted in Brooke Sharp’s close range effort being saved by the Bulldog’s Tanya De Souza after the ball was headed back down into a dangerous area by Savannah Jordan. Florida Head Coach Becky Burleigh said that the crosses into the box were a key part in creating so many scoring chances for the Gators. 

Jordan also was influential attack, as she had a team high 10 shots out of the 22 that the Gators took throughout the match (Florida outshot Mississippi State 22-8). She came close several times to opening up the scoring, but saw her shots go just wide or saved by an impressive De Souza who did well to keep the game tied for so long. There was a six minute period mid-way through the second half where Jordan had three open, close-range headers saved by De Souza. Jordan admitted she was frustrated by not finding the back of the net, but that her focus is on getting the win for her team.

The Gators kept pushing for the tiebreaker and the eventual breakthrough came via a stunning strike from Pelayo just nine minutes from full time. Amidst a flurry of Gator chances late in the game, they earned a corner kick from the left side. Meggie Dougherty Howard sent the cross in, the ball bounced off of a head in the box, and fell for Pelayo, who from 7 yards, volleyed the ball first time with her left foot and smashed it into the back of the net. The goal marked Pelayo’s fourth of the season and Dougherty Howard’s seventh assist of the season. Pelayo said she was just happy the ball ended up past the goalkeeper.

The goal seemed a just result for how the Gators had been playing, but the win was not secured yet. With just 30 seconds left in the match, Florida goalie Kaylan Marckese was called upon for one of the few moments in the match, and she came up big. A Mississippi State counter-attack launched a one-on-one opportunity that seemed to have been offside, but the assistant referee kept the offside flag down, and Marckese scrambled to make the save from close range. Marckese said the last minute save was just her doing her part to keep the clean sheet. The shutout marks the Gators fifth in their last seven games, and the 11th of Marckese’s career.

And so on senior day, when Jordan, Dougherty, Howard, and others were celebrated for approaching the end of their Gator careers, it was two sophomores who made big plays late in the game to seal the deal for the Gators. Marckese said it was nice to get the win for the seniors who do so much for the team.

Florida will close out the regular season at Missouri on Thursday. Burleigh said that she wants the Gators to continue their recent strong defensive efforts going into the Missouri game and the throughout the postseason tournaments.

The SEC Tournament gets underway November 1.

About Jonathan Acosta

Native New Englander. Follow me on Twitter: @jonacosta_10

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