STORRS—When Harvard forward Margaret Purce scored with 20 minutes to play Sunday afternoon, it put No. 25 UConn in tough spot, especially when chances were not going the Huskies' way.
"Everyone's heads went down, you could see it," junior forward Rachel Hill said. "It was slower pace."
In the final five minutes of the game at Morrone Stadium, the Huskies found a way to pick themselves up. Sam McGuire scored an equalizer with 4:44 remaining, and Hill scored incredibly from outside the box with 36 seconds to play as UConn came from behind to beat Harvard 2-1.
The win improved the Huskies to 5-0-0 to begin the 2015 season, UConn's best start since 1998.
"You don't find many people who are going to pull that off when you're down 1-0 and you've got 18 minutes left," McGuire said. "We've just got a bunch of girls who are just going to sit there and fight to the end."
The Huskies faced a tough challenge defensively with the absence of left back and senior captain Megan Hunsberger, who left Thursday's win over her old school, Syracuse, with an injury. While Hunsberger rested, UConn's young back line—featuring two freshmen, one sophomore and one senior—was tasked with stopping Purce, a teammate of Hill's with the United States at the 2014 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup.
Purce got free in the box and put an open header past goalkeeper Emily Armstrong, putting the Huskies on upset alert. Despite a 14-6 shot advantage at the time, UConn had nothing going offensively.
"We were very tentative today," head coach Len Tsantiris said. "A lot of times we let them have the ball. We didn't pressure, and they got the goal. They have a very special player, and they're a good team overall. They're very good. So, one thing, we lost focus for one play and we let their best player have a free header inside the box."
UConn's defense held strong, holding the Crimson to only six shots on goal. Purce's goal was Harvard's only legitimate scoring chance of the game.
"Our freshmen stepped in," Hill said. "Heidi (Druehl) did really well today. And Margaret is a really tough player to defend, so I think our defense did a good job with her."
Harvard never came close to scoring after Purce's goal, and the Huskies kept all the pressure on Crimson goalkeeper Lizzie Durack. The junior from Australia had done a miraculous job keeping the Huskies off the scoreboard for the first 85 minutes of the match.
Stephanie Ribeiro had a chance to give UConn the lead on the brink of halftime, but Durack got to her point-blank header at the last second, pushing it off the crossbar and back into play.
With about seven minutes to play, McGuire got tangled up with a Harvard defender along the sidelines, which led to a talking to for McGuire from the ref, much to the displeasure of Tsantiris. The longtime coach walked about 10 feet onto the field to plead for his player.
That incident lit a spark for UConn, and it spelled disaster for Harvard. Two minutes later, McGuire crossed up a Harvard defender in the box and put a beautiful curled shot inside the far post for the equalizer.
In the final minute, UConn was scrambling for the winner. As could be expected, it came from the foot of Hill. The Huskies' leading scorer let off a shot across her body from about 23 yards away. From the moment it left her foot, it was destined for the back of the net.
"I think we learned from our mistakes and we'll get better from now on," Hill said.