Things weren't looking very promising.
The University of New Mexico women's soccer team trailed 2-0 to the Utah State Aggies on Sunday afternoon at the UNM Soccer Complex, despite outshooting its opponent in the opening 45 minutes.
There were two goals allowed and just one save to its credit on the UNM side, while Utah State's keeper saved both of the rare attempts on goal on the other.
A conference loss would have dealt a serious blow to New Mexico and its postseason aspirations, sending it into the bottom half of the conference standings with just five matches remaining — three of which are on the road.
But after halftime, the Lobos' fortune quickly flipped and the team rode the wave and overcame the odds. The team scored three unanswered goals in the second half to earn a 3-2 win over the Aggies and pick up an important Mountain Conference victory.
UNM head coach Heather Dyche said the win was obviously important in the standings and the halftime message focused on the women having faith in themselves and their abilities. She said they really played for each other, which makes it fun to be around.
"This team is really capable of being great and when they start having faith in how good they are, they play like that," Dyche said. "I love this team, I love how hard they work and I love that they don't give up."
Utah State made things difficult on New Mexico and looked like it was well on its way to burying the Lobos after putting a pair of headers past UNM goalkeeper Emily Johnson.
Aggie defender Imelda Williams struck first with a goal in the 15th minute of the match and later assisted on a goal after setting up teammate by placing the ball where Kanyan Ward-Merrill could convert with a header of her own. The second goal put the Lobos in a 2-0 hole less than 30 minutes into the game, where the score remained at the break.
Utah State keeper Grace McGuire collected four more saves in the second half to run her total up to six saves for the match, but could not withstand the offensive onslaught employed by the Lobos over the final 45. To make matters worse, UNM's defensive was stifling — preventing the Aggies from recording a single shot attempt after half.
The turning point of the game seemed to come when Lobo forward Gwen Maly spearheaded the effort. Jessica Nelson sent in her patented flip throw and after the ball ricocheted around for a while before the sophomore launched a shot on goal. McGuire saved the initial attempt, but when the ball found its way back to Maly she sent the ball through the net to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the 57th minute.
Less than a minute later, the Aggies were whistled for a foul — setting up a potential game-tying opportunity for New Mexico. Maly stepped up and made full use of the wind at her back, blasting the free kick past the keeper at the 57:26 mark to tie the score 2-2.
Maly said the team showed a lot of heart coming back and second half effort was for the team's seniors, adding that they wanted to make sure the conference tournament and a potential postseason berth was still in play.
"We definitely had a different mindset," the sophomore said. "We kind of realized what was at stake this game and we knew that we needed to get a win."
Sophomore forward Leilani Baker made sure the comeback was not a wasted effort. She took a precision pass from senior Amelia Bierle and found herself in space with a shot at a game-winner. The sophomore showed patience and continued to advance on the breakaway, forcing McGuire to show her hand. And after the goalie made her move, Baker made hers — quickly firing the ball past the diving keeper to score and give the Lobos their first lead 71:30 into the match.
That score held as the Lobos outshot the Aggies 12-0 in the final period, seven of which were on goal. Maly led all players with four shots on goal and seven overall. Freshman goalkeeper Malia Vanisi relieved Johnson in the 36th minute and was not forced to make a save during her time between the pipes.
New Mexico improved to 3-2-1 in Mountain West conference play and 7-5-1 overall. The Lobos benefitted from a 2-2 tie with Boise State on Friday night after falling behind 2-0 at the half in that match as well.
The Lobos will head to Nevada to face UNLV on Friday, Oct. 12 at 8 p.m. and Nevada two days later at 2 p.m. and can stay in the top half of the conference standings if they are able to find a way to grind out some wins on the road. UNM is just 1-4 away from home this season.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.