American University, in Washington, D.C., has not been known for its athletics. In the early 1980’s, its basketball team had three consecutive 20-win seasons (that included a 1982 upset over its crosstown rival – #5 ranked Georgetown), which unfortunately were punctuated by narrow losses in the conference finals. The men’s basketball team would not reach the NCAA tournament until 2004.
Soccer, however was another story. While Reeves Field will always be remembered more for President Kennedy’s historic 1963 commencement address that led to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, under Coach Pete Mehlert the Eagles gained national prominence.
From 1979-1984, the Eagles were 76-37-15 with 3 NCAA appearances including an Elite-8 appearance in 1979. Then came the breakout year – 1985.
The Eagles went 19-3-2 in the regular season and, postseason included, posted 12 shutouts, scored four or more goals five times and conceded multiple goals once. The Eagles featured two All-Americans, defender Keith Trehy and Midfielder Mike Brady. Brady’s 24 goals made him the NCAA Men’s Player of the Year by Soccer America.
The Eagles entered the NCAA tournament ranked 5th in the nation and then began their run. They beat #15 George Mason 3-1 at home and then scored a 2-0 shutout victory on the road against #6 South Carolina.
On this day 30 years ago, the #5 Eagles faced #3 Hartwick in the NCAA Semifinals at Reeves Fields. To the delight of the 5,500 screaming fans, the Eagles won 1-0 and earned a trip to the NCAA Championship in Seattle against #2 UCLA (who upset #1 Evansville 3-1).
The Battle in Seattle was a defensive struggle with the score deadlocked at 0-0 at the end of regulation. There were no penalty kicks back then, so the game was decided by 10-minute sudden death overtime periods.
In the 3rd overtime, American’s Serge Torreilles was ejected for butting heads with UCLA’s Dale Ervine, but UCLA failed to capitalize.
As the game continued, the public address announcer warned AU fans they were going to miss their red-eye flight home if they did not leave soon.
By the final minute of the 7th overtime, the game was officially the longest in NCAA history.
In the 8th overtime, AU’s Brady collapsed with a cramp and limped to the sidelines and some Eagles momentarily froze thinking officials would stop play. UCLA seized the opportunity and quickly scored the decisive goal after 166:05 minutes of soccer to win their first NCAA soccer crown.
The game still stands as the longest in college history, as the NCAA has since adopted penalty kicks. When UCLA won their second crown in 1990, it was after four overtimes and penalty kicks. The NCAA now uses penalty kicks after two overtime periods.
Coach Mehlert was named Coach of the Year for the Eagles spectacular season. Mehlert stepped down in 1991 after 20 years as coach.
The Eagles have returned to the NCAA tournament four times, making the Sweet 16 twice and Elite 8 in 1997. Had the Eagles advanced in 1997, they would have had a rematch with UCLA in the Championship game.
Twenty-nine years later, the Eagles got some measure of revenge when they upset #1 UCLA 2-1 in overtime in an early season matchup.