Akron knew it would need to beat two teams from the ACC to win its first national title. The Zips moved one step closer Friday night.
Top-ranked Akron eliminated North Carolina on penalty kicks in the men's College Cup semifinals, advancing to play No. 2 seed Virginia in Sunday's championship game.
The Cavaliers defeated Wake Forest 2-1 in overtime.
"This team doesn't feel inferior to anybody," Akron coach Caleb Porter said. "And yet we respect the ACC, North Carolina, Virginia and Wake. They're tremendous teams, top programs in the country. But this team has believed all year long that they're as good as anybody."
Akron and North Carolina played to a scoreless draw through regulation and two 10-minute overtime periods before Blair Gavin's shot into the lower left-hand corner of the net allowed the Zips to advance.
"I believed in myself that I was going to make the PK," Gavin said. "There was no way I was going to let my team down."
North Carolina's Jordan Graye, leading off the third round of penalty kicks, sailed his shot over the crossbar to give Akron an opening.
The fifth-seeded Tar Heels (16-2-4) played overtime and the final 20:12 of regulation down a man. Defender Brett King received his second yellow card of the match and was sent off when he took down Darlington Nagbe on a long ball outside the box.
"We worked as hard as we could today, and I give the team all the credit," North Carolina goalkeeper Brooks Haggerty said. "We busted it to get to the penalty kicks."
The result goes down as a tie, leaving Akron (23-0-1) deadlocked with Indiana's 1997 team for the NCAA record for most consecutive wins in a season.
Ownby made sure Virginia wouldn't need penalty kicks to beat Wake Forest. He entered the game late in the second half and scored in the third minute of overtime to lift the Cavaliers to their first College Cup final since 1997.
"I couldn't feel the cold," said Ownby, who ripped off his jersey after scoring to start a wild celebration in temperatures dipping below 30 degrees. "It was just the energy and the excitement and everything."
Ownby didn't appear bothered by a sports hernia injury that will require surgery, running down the middle of the field to control a long feed from Jonathan Villanueva. Ownby split a pair of Wake Forest defenders and popped the ball over goalkeeper Akira Fitzgerald.
Ownby said he could have played 20 or 30 minutes if needed, and nearly scored with 2:10 remaining in regulation, when Fitzgerald's sliding save sent the game to overtime.
"I just kicked it as hard as I could, as far as I could," Villanueva said of his pass from midfield that set up the winning goal. "He's faster than anyone else I know, so I figured he would catch up to it wherever it went."
The Cavaliers (18-3-3) got past the third-seeded Demon Deacons (17-4-3) for the third time in three meetings between the ACC rivals this season. Virginia eliminated Wake Forest on this field in the conference tournament quarterfinals on Nov. 13, 5-4 on penalty kicks.
Tony Tchani scored in the 55th minute to give Virginia the lead, and Wake Forest's Corben Bone responded in the 70th minute with the equalizer.
Tchani's goal also came on an assist from Villanueva. Fitzgerald dived to his left to save a blast by him from just inside the box, and Tchani drove the rebound into the top part of the net for his eighth goal of the season.
As was the case in the first two meetings, the Demon Deacons struggled to solve Virginia's nation-leading defense. Virginia goalkeeper Diego Restrepo was on his way to his 16th shutout of the season before Bone made something out of nothing.
He dribbled along the end line to the left of the goal, keeping control of the ball and keeping it in bounds just inches away from the stripe. Bone flipped a right-footed shot off Restrepo that deflected into the net, ending Virginia's streak of 11 consecutive shutouts.
"I thought we owned the game," said Wake Forest coach Jay Vidovich, whose team was playing in the College Cup for the fourth consecutive season.
"If you look at the quality chances and opportunities in the game, it was clearly Wake Forest. We created quality chances, and we didn't put them away. That's where you get punished."
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