Two years in the ACC, two ACC Championship game appearances.
The North Carolina Tar Heels and Syracuse Orange played another nail biter in Philadelphia on Friday night. SU took the game 9-8, but the game was not without controversy. With 1:12 left in the game, UNC went on an uncontested clear. Right as the pass came over the midfield and the referees called an offside penalty on UNC claiming Chad Tutton didn't come back to the defensive side when Austin Pifani moved to the offensive side of the field. While there was no good reply, the UNC coaches certainly disagreed. The penalty sealed the game for SU.
A tough ending for North Carolina.
The best player on the field for both teams might have been Bobby Wardwell. Although Kieran Burke played extremely well, Wardwell had 14 saves and made some tremendous saves throughout the game. The Syracuse defense played very well. The long-poles held Jimmy Bitter to zero points on the day, a big feet for one of the best attackman in the land. Also, keep in mind Bitter had 12 shots on the day. Again give Wardwell credit, he stonewalled Bitter and the rest of the UNC attack. Chad Tutton led the Tar Heels in scoring with two goals, no other UNC player had more than one goal. Joey Sankey and Tutton both had three points.
The first half ended just as the first quarter did, in a tie. Nicky Galasso picked up a hat trick in the first half against his former team and UNC was forced to put LSM Ryan Kilpatrick on him. Dylan Donahue and Kevin Rice had two goals a piece. As one member of the TNIAAM twitterati pointed out, this was the first time SU has not scored at least 12 goals this year.
The second half started off with back-to-back goals for the Orange off of a great couple of saves from Bobby Wardwell. The first, an easy goal for Randy Staats just off the crease (6-5 SU). The second goal of the half came while UNC was in a zone defense. Staats made a cross crease pass to Dylan Donahue for a quick finish as the slide didn't make it in time (7-5).
It was mentioned several times in the telecast, but there was really no reason to play zone against Syracuse. The passing ability for this team can break zones easily and can create opportunities on the crease.
Down 8-5 in the third quarter, UNC stretched a three-goal run into the fourth quarter to tie the game at eight. In one of the few defensive breakdowns of the game for Syracuse, Joey Sankey hit a cutting Duncan Hutchins for an easy goal (8-6 SU). Hutchins cut into the crease with no SU player following the cutter. The second goal of the run came from Tutton who put a shoulder into Tom Grimm and beat him about 12 yards out (8-7 SU). The game tying goal came off the crosse of Tutton, again, as he stood on the crease (8-8). It was Luke Goldstock feeding Tutton for the goal. Kind of a quiet night for Goldstock, a player that is on pace to break the single-season goal record for UNC. He used to be known as a finisher, banking on feeding passes from Sankey and Bitter, but has developed into an excellent passer himself.
The game-winning goal came from senior Kevin Rice. Rice curled up from behind the cage leaving his defender in the dust and dunked it into the near-side, top corner (9-8 SU).
I was impressed at the clearing game for Syracuse tonight. UNC is one of the best riding attack groups in the country, yet still SU went 19 for 19 in clearing. On the other side, UNC went 16-20. Two points of concern: the turnovers and the man-up game. SU went 0-4 in extra-man opportunities, not a typical performance for the fifth best man-up offense. In terms of turnovers, the box score has not come out yet, but SU had at least 16 turnovers, I believe, on Friday. That is a big number.
In the faceoff game, Ben Williams took 14 of 21 battles at the X. UNC really hampered Williams in the fourth quarter of the last matchup, but with 1:48 to go in the game, UNC took a faceoff violation giving SU the ball.
The Orange will take on the Duke Blue Devils on Saturday at 1:00 pm at PPL Park for the ACC Championship. The game can be seen on ESPNU. Of course you can also follow me @Orangelax for updates throughout the game.