It took two overtimes to decide Saturday's game between these two ACC rivals, but it was certainly worth the wait. Just two minutes into the double OT, Randy Staats held the ball behind the net. With a short stick on him it looked like he might try and dodge from behind. Staats came around the crease, still being closely guarded, but the UNC adjacent slide came a little too early. As Ryan Kilpatrick slid, Billy Ward, who Kilpatrick had been guarding, backed up a few steps to get a clear passing lane between himself and Staats. Staats dumped it to Ward on the wing and he fired, connecting with the far-side corner. The 11-10 SU win, puts Syracuse into the ACC Tournament, which most would not have thought possible after the first two conference games of the year.
What an incredible game, hard fought and even, all the way to the end. Thankfully the Orange won because otherwise we'd be talking about the last second opportunities in regulation and in the first overtime which Syracuse couldn't finish on. But we'll get to that later.
The North Carolina Tar Heels and Syracuse Orange had not faced each other since 1996, and they had not met in the regular season since 1994. This game took on extra importance as a play-in game for the ACC Tournament, winner getting the fourth or third seed, loser playing in the ACC Showcase game. What we saw today was simply a classic lacrosse game, and without a doubt an example of the best that the ACC has to offer.
The Tar Heels came out of the gate with a 3-0 lead. Chad Tutton, Joey Sankey and Pat Foster had the first three, all unassisted. Sankey seems to love playing from behind the net while getting the defense hung up in front. The Orange found themselves in this situation with 11:25 left in the first period, resulting in Sankey driving around the crease where only Dominic Lamolinara was left to defend him. Midfielder, Pat Foster found his only goal of the game when he dove around the crease and backhanded it in past Lamolinara, putting UNC up 3-0.
To their credit, Syracuse fought back, going on a 3-1 run to finish the first period down 4-3. Kevin Rice got the first goal for the Orange, but Billy Ward had the next two for SU. Ward played phenomenally today with 3 goals, 1 assist and of course, the game winner in the second overtime.
The first period ended with a 4-3 North Carolina lead.
Hakeem Lecky continued to have troubles, only getting 1 of his 3 shots on net and giving away 2 turnovers. After an early shot from Lecky which sent Carolina on the clear, Dylan Donahue had a huge hit to dismantle the ball from the UNC ball carrier and putting the Orange back in the offensive zone. North Carolina finished the game 21 of 24 on the clear while Syracuse was uncharacteristically successful going 24 of 25. That being said, the Orange still found a way to give the ball away 13 times.
Syracuse went scoreless in the second quarter. UNC had the only 2 goals in the period as they dominated the possession time. While Dom made some key saves in the half, he allowed 6 goals on 12 shots on goal. Bobby Wardwell took over, per usual, to start the second half. In the stats book, things looked even. Syracuse won the first half groundball battle 16-15, and Chris Daddio took 6 of 11 face-offs from UNC. The Orange did find themselves outshot 18-12 in the first half. After two periods of play, the Tar Heels led 6-3.
Throughout most of the first 3 periods, the Orange found themselves unable to get into the offensive situations in which they have been so productive in throughout the season. This was due mostly to the UNC defense, which played spectacularly today.
Syracuse came out in the second half with a quick goal from Dylan Donahue, just 45 seconds into the period. Donahue beat his man on the goal line extended, putting it high, nearside on Tar Heel goalie Kieran Burke, his 25th of the season and first of 2 in the game. Just over a minute later, Rice worked his way around the crease to receive the pass from Billy Ward. Rice through a fake and then fired it in to make it 6-5 UNC.
The Tar Heels were able to pick up the third goal of the half. Recognizing the mismatch, Jake Matthai simply pushed away the undersized Syracuse midfielder Matt Weston, spun and went low on Wardwell to put the Tar Heels back up by two, 7-5 UNC.
One interesting moment in the third period came on a loose ball chance in the back of the Syracuse defensive zone. Sankey, chasing after the ball, got slammed by Bobby Wardwell, breaking the SU goalie's stick and sending the ball go out of bounds off of Sankey. Wardwell finished the game with 5 saves and 4 goals allowed.
With 4:09 left in the third, Nicky Galasso got his first of 2 goals on the game and his 6th of the year, 7-6 UNC. Galasso, as you might remember, came to SU following two years with the Tar Heels that included being named the ACC Freshman of the Year in 2011. On the ensuing face-off, Daddio won the battle but SU turned it over almost immediately. After being the goat of the Syracuse lacrosse program for the last two years, Daddio and his wings have significantly improved their play in the last few weeks. Still though, Syracuse turned the ball over after face-off wins on multiple occasions today, negating the win.
The third period finished up with a goal from Scott Loy on a bouncer that barely got by Burke with 11 seconds remaining. Loy's tally tied up the game at 7 to end the quarter.
At 3:01 into the fourth quarter, Jimmy Bitter picked up UNC's 8th goal of the day on a Syracuse defensive breakdown. Bitter started off in the bottom left of the box and ran it behind the net and around the crease. Brandon Mullins had been guarding Bitter but as Mullins went around the front of the goal Mullins slowed up, appearing to assume that Sean Young, who was sitting on the far side of the crease, would slide down to the goal line. With no communication however, Young didn't slide until he realized Mullins was too far behind Bitter to help, giving Bitter a nearly unguarded opportunity on the crease, 8-7 UNC.
Syracuse responded on a crisp goal. Galasso from the wing to Rice behind the cage, and Rice hit Donahue on the crease for the easy bank-in, all tied up again at 8. Galasso picked up his second of the night several minutes later on a shot from the wing, giving Syracuse their first lead of the day, 9-8 SU.
As the minutes wound down, Chad Tutton got a bouncer past Wardwell, followed by Jimmy Bitter putting another one in to give UNC a 10-9 lead with 3:10 remaining in the game.
Over those last three minutes, North Carolina did not let up the offensive pressure one bit but they missed the net repeatedly. Finally, with about 30 seconds left, Syracuse got the ball back. After three timeouts, the action picked back up at 23 seconds. With Kevin Rice holding the ball from behind the net, he came around the crease, got some room on his defender, freshman Austin Pifani, by moving away from the net and got the bouncer through. Rice had tied up the game with 8 second left. The Orange nearly got the winning goal on the ensuing face-off. Rice held the ball high in the box and fired it down to Donahue on the crease who got off the shot but missed the net as the UNC defender slammed him to the ground from behind. No call on the play, but after four quarters of no penalties it was a pretty consistent call.
In the first overtime, Syracuse had several chances to put the game away, the best of which occurred with just one second left as Rice received the long pass on the crease but Kieran Burke just ate it up. Thankfully though, the Orange were able to put it away in the second overtime, as Billy Ward let a bullet fly into the top right corner.
Syracuse travel to Hobart next Saturday at 3 pm where the winner will take home the Kraus-Simmons Trophy. The game can be seen on TWCS or heard on WTKW 99.5 FM.