SANTA BARBARA, Calif. — When midfielder Amar Sejdic successfully converted Maryland’s first penalty kick of the season, smoke shot out of two devices behind the goal as the Terps spilled into the corner of the field.

Akron midfielder Colin Biros kicked Maryland defender Johannes Bergmann in the face in the 57th minute, drawing the spot kick. Sejdic — just like he did in the Big Ten semifinal shootout against Indiana — drilled his kick on the ground to the left.

After Sejdic’s score, a half hour of scoreless soccer separated Maryland from its first national championship in a decade. And for a defense that hadn’t conceded in the NCAA tournament, what was 33 more minutes?

Despite a second Sejdic penalty being saved in the 76th minute, the Terps successfully accomplished what the nine previous Maryland teams hadn’t, winning the national championship for the first time since 2008.

“Wow, that sounds great — 2018 national champions,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “Early October, it didn’t feel like it was going to be that. I couldn’t be more proud of this team, this group of seniors, the journey that they’ve been on.”

In the first meeting after the end of last season, Cirovski created the goal of resetting the identity of his program after two years without an NCAA tournament win.

He no longer saw the Terps playing their tough brand of soccer, so he constructed the nation’s toughest schedule in order to rekindle that mentality within the team. But a reset didn’t necessarily mean a rebuilding season, and Maryland still had the defensive foundation and offensive potential to make sure of it.

“I wanted to know at the beginning of the year what our team was made of,” Cirovski said. “I wanted to know what issues we had to fix. I wanted to know to harden and toughen this team so they could be ready for a road that we just had.”

Sejdic’s goal cemented a campaign that successfully re-established the identity for future Maryland teams to emulate.

The win extends further than the players who overcame no wins in their first four games, a 476-minute scoreless streak to start the season and being on the brink of ineligibility for the NCAA tournament with four games left in the regular season.

Assistant coaches Scott Buete and Jake Pace both played under Cirovski, losing in the College Cup a combined three times. The duo paced the sidelines together before the game, years separated from their chances, watching the team they coached earn their redemption, too.

Even though Maryland failed to score before halftime for the first time this tournament, the Terps ensured they capitalized on penalty kick from their senior captain.

“It’s a moment that I thought of since I came to Maryland,” Sejdic said. “I knew that if the moment came, I wanted to be the guy that stepped up and took it. It’s a moment that I’ll remember forever.”

Later in the half, midfielder Matt Di Rosa was taken down by goalkeeper Ben Lundt, but the netminder guessed correctly on Sejdic’s second free opportunity. But a victory at that point was essentially a foregone conclusion, with the Terps finishing the season with 11 straight wins when scoring first.

So, Sejdic’s first goal was all Maryland needed.

“We have a saying, ‘Be Terrapin tough,’” goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair said. “I think throughout the whole tournament, throughout the whole season, we said if we keep our lines compact, there was a confidence about us that nothing was going to get past us.”

Akron’s task became tougher with nine minutes left, when defender Carlo Ritaccio earned a red card, forcing the Zips to play with 10 players for the rest of the contest. The frequent Akron cards limited their chances for an equalizer.

The Zips had four shots after Sejdic’s goal, but Maryland’s defense couldn’t be cracked. The Terps recorded clean sheets in all five tournament victories. None of Cirovski’s two other championship teams accomplished that.

Just like their previous four victories in the tournament, Maryland’s bench rushed off the sidelines to celebrate at the final whistle. This time, though, the Terps were finally national champions after a long nine-year drought.

“This has been the epitome of Maryland soccer this year, “ Cirovski said. “Reestablished, reidentified, and to be the last team smiling, is the happiest you can possibly be.”