There is no doubt that the run through the gauntlet of the 2014 NCAA Men's Soccer Championships was the greatest journey by a Retriever intercollegiate athletic program.
The No. 5 moment in the #retriever50for50 countdown took place just several hundred yards from the No. 6 moment. For Retriever Nation, on that cool November 23 day in College Park, Md., Ludwig Field felt like a home away from home.
The 2014 men's soccer season had a few more potholes than did its predecessor. Although the Retriever were under-seeded in 2013, even had they lost the America East title game, an at-large bid was still likely. That was not the case in 2014. And, things looked a bit grim in the AE Championship game when Hartford took a 1-0 lead late in the first half and held it as the clock ticked under 30 minutes in regulation.
But All-American defender Oumar Ballo scored in the 62' and red-shirt freshman Gregg Hauck added a highlight-reel goal in the 76' as the Retrievers prevailed, 2-1.
The NCAA Tournament bracket came out two days later. There was a lot less fanfare than in 2013 and UMBC's prospects looked daunting when they were slated to face ACC power Wake Forest in Winston-Salem on Thursday evening, and, should they, advance, would then have to face No. 4 Maryland on their home turf three days later.
The Retrievers and Demon Deacons played 110 minutes of scoreless soccer, but UMBC prevailed, 3-2, in the penalty kick shoot-out to earn a date with the Terrapins.
The two teams had met in early September, and before a national television audience and an announced crowd of over 7,000 fans, they battled to a 0-0 double overtime draw. Moreover, Maryland had visited UMBC in the charity classic, Kicks for Chase in April of 2014, so the Retrievers were simply not going to be intimidated by anything that was thrown at them.
But, if the Maryland team didn't take UMBC lightly, those on the outside of the actual game may have. Hours before the game, scores of UMBC fans took over the parking lot outside Ludwig Field and event staffers and predominantly Terrapin-based media were already looking ahead to Maryland's next potential opponent.
The hosts controlled the first half, but did not score, and Coach Caringi and his staff urged the Retrievers to play more aggressively in the second half. The players took that to heart and took the fight to the Terrapins.
Then, with just over 20 minutes remaining in regulation, Retriever forward Kay Banjo broke in on the right side and pumped a shot towards the far post. The Maryland keeper kept the shot out of the net, but the rebound fell right to an onrushing Malcolm Harris, who tapped it into an unguarded net.
It seemed like most of the 3,700 fans on hand erupted as Harris and his teammates celebrated the goal.
The Terps fought desperately for the equalizer, but a late header missed the cage. UMBC netminder Billy Heavner got control of the ball in the final seconds and unleashed it as the clock struck zero.
Unprepared for the magnitude of the moment, event security could not contain the jubilant Retriever fans, who raced onto the field to celebrate with the players. Banjo and Caringi, amongst others, were raised on the shoulders of the crowd and proud alumni and current players embraced in a surreal scene.
A movement wasn't necessarily born in the twilight of College Park that evening, but it certainly felt as if something really special was happening.