It became clear, in the 29th minute when Christina Burkenroad gave Cal State Fullerton a 2-0 lead in the 29th minute, that the rest of the NCAA first-round women's soccer match was going to be an adventure.
For Stanford, ranked No. 3 and holding a No. 1 seed, this would be either a huge loss undoubtedly one of the biggest upsets in collegiate soccer history or a huge win. Nothing in between.
When the final whistle blew, the result was the latter.
Stanford scored five second-half goals three by Chioma Ubogagu in 27 minutes to rally to a 5-2 victory Friday at Laird Q. Cagan and avoid a shocking loss. The senior Ubogagu's first collegiate hat trick and a two-goal performance of Taylor Uhl did the damage. Uhl, shut out for the first 14 matches, now has eight goals in her past six matches.
Stanford (18-1-2) advances to play Arkansas, a 3-2 overtime winner at Oklahoma. The Cardinal will play host to a second-round doubleheader on Friday, with matches at 4:30 and 7 p.m. The winners will play Sunday at 1 on the same Cagan Stadium field.
The threat of a loss seemed real. First Fullerton (10-8-4), the Big West Conference regular-season and tournament champion, scored on a penalty kick. Then, the Titans intercepted a pass deep in Stanford's defensive end and Burkenroad beat a defender for the 29th minute goal.
Stanford didn't help itself by playing panicked soccer in response, picking up its energy, but in an unorganized way, as if trying to make the deficit at once.
"When the second one went in, it was like, 'Uh oh." You start thinking," Ubogagu said. "But I really try to squash that. I really believe in the team and everyone on the field, in everyone's fight and competitiveness. I'm just really proud that we showed great character, especially in the second half. Get the first one and keep fighting, and keep trying to get the result we wanted."
Late in the first half, Stanford began to settle down, forcing Fullerton goalkeeper Jennifer Stuart into some tough saves. But still no goals.
"At halftime, I was pretty hard on them," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe. "We needed to play with passion, but it had to be within our game. We needed to play good possession soccer."
Ratcliffe stressed that there was plenty of time.
"All we needed was one goal," he said. "And we'd be back in it."
Stanford attacked, and attached strong. Fullerton drew back and kept numbers in the box, continuing to hold off the Cardinal as time began to grow short.
Finally, at 60:47, the goal that would break the ice was scored. Lo'eau LaBonta drew a foul just outside the penalty area, just to the right of the goal. LaBonta lined up on the left to take a shot, and Ubogagu, the left-footer, lined up on the other side. Fullerton packed six into a wall, and Stanford extended it by adding two of its players.
"Usually, at practice, Lo and I talk about who has the best look," Ubogagu said. "Looking at where the wall was lined up and where the goalie was, Lo said I had the better shot and I agreed. I just tried to keep it on frame, because it's really tough for a goalie to see through the wall. If you keep it on frame the majority of the time, you're probably going to get a goal. That's all I was trying to do, to give us a chance to get on the board and live another day."
Her left-footed shot curled over the wall and Stuart was late reacting as the ball hit the net.
An Ubogagu to Uhl goal moments later was disallowed by offsides, but the momentum was fully in Stanford's favor.
Ubogagu set up her own shot with spectacular footwork in the box at 63:52, Uhl scored on consecutive volleys from passes by Alex Doll, at 73:28 and 81:07. Uhl has scored all nine of her goals in the past seven matches, after being shut out for the first 14.
Ubogagu cemented her hat trick and her season-best tying 10th goal off a cross from LaBonta at 87:26. She joined Uhl and Ryan Walker-Hartshorn as Stanford players with hat tricks.
"You never want to put yourself up against a wall, but I think we responded in a really positive way to that adversity tonight," Uhl said. "That's going to stick in the back of our heads now. If this would ever happen to us again down the road, we know we have this confidence that we can do it."
Stanford outshot the Titans, 20-0 in the second half and 33-5 overall. Ubogagu's tying goal did now allow Stanford to apply the brakes, but rather to continue to push as hard as it could.
"Coming to this school is one of the best decisions I've made," said Ubogagu, who will graduate in June with a degree in film and media studies. "For all the hard this team has put in, it would have been really hard and unfortunate to end in a first-round game. We did such a good job of putting ourselves in position to have all home games and a No. 1 seed. I just kept trying to revisit that memory in my mind. We put so much work in."
A note: This was the first time Stanford trailed by two goals at home since falling behind San Diego State in a nonconference match 2-0 in the second half on Aug. 30, 2009. The final score: a 5-2 Stanford victory.
Other notes: This was Stanford's 22nd consecutive NCAA tournament victory at home, and its ninth consecutive first-round victory.