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Syracuse 10 - North Carolina 7: ACC Championship Bound

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The Syracuse Orange knocked off the North Carolina Tar Heels for the second time this season and have earned a trip back to the ACC Championship game.

Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

With a 10-7 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels, the Syracuse Orange are headed back to the ACC Championship where they will await the winner of Duke-Notre Dame.

I expected a much closer game in the rematch between these two squads but the Syracuse defense came in and dominated. The Orange long-poles have been out of control the last few games, and the momentum continued through Friday. Only on a few occasions could UNC manage to find an open man on the inside, as the SU defense did a great job of closely guarding the Heels' shooters. All-ACC attackman Luke Goldstock was held scoreless along with Michael Tagliaferri who burned Syracuse for four goals in the regular season.

Throughout the game we saw some fantastic goalie play on both sides of the field. Carolina's Brian Balkam looked confident in net with 12 saves while Evan Molloy looked like a veteran making 14 saves on a very good group of Carolina shooters. Molloy did give up a good amount of rebounds but thankfully the defense was able to corral most. There were six extra-man goals scored in the game, with UNC taking advantage on each of its four power plays. Syracuse, meanwhile could only capitalize on two of four, a low success rate for one of the best EMO teams in the nation.

As we talked about in the game preview, UNC had some trouble clearing the ball going 17 of 20 on the clears. At times the play on the field was sloppy for both sides, with turnovers hitting each squad hard. The Heels and Orange were nearly even in the groundball and shots taken categories, but with SU taking a slight edge in both.

Jordan Evans started off the scoring on Friday. Number 22 was able to catch his defender off balance behind cage, come around the crease and go low on Balkam (1-0 SU). Evans had a good game with two goals on three shots and a groundball to boot. Derek DeJoe followed up Evans' goal with a bouncer to put the Orange up by two (2-0 SU). DeJoe had two scores on Friday but still was not able to connect on five other shots. Nate Solmon, a Georgia native, got a tough angled shot to go with only fifty seconds remaining in the quarter to extend the Orange lead by three (3-0 SU). Solomon would have two goals on the day in his return to the home state.

With the defense in lockdown mode and Molloy having a huge day, the Orange held UNC scoreless until 12:25 in the second quarter. Nikko Pontrello made a nice cross-field pass to Brian Cannon on the far side crease for an easy goal. The defender got somewhat hung up between UNC players, a very tough play for the defense (3-1 SU). The Orange were able to come right back less than two minutes later and with a series of quick passes from Tim Barber to Matt Lane to Sergio Salcido who hit Dylan Donahue on the crease for the score. Donahue was able to get off a quick release shot and burry it on the doorstep, it would be his only goal of the evening (4-1 SU).

After an offsides penalty on Carolina, Matt Lane found Jordan Evans on the crease for a wide open shot and a man-up goal (5-1 SU). Several minutes later Mariano used excellent field vision to find and hit Tim Barber in the center of the box. Barber was left completely alone by the UNC defense and the slide came too late, leaving Brian Balkam out to dry (6-1 SU).  The Heels were able to stop the SU run with another goal from Cannon on the crease (6-2 SU). Cannon, along with Pontrello, had three goals on the day. Under a minute later it was Patrick Kelly, the only other goal scorer for Carolina, streaking from the top of the box and getting the pass from Pontrello behind cage to slam it home (6-3 SU). The midfield was unable to pick up Kelly as he ran nearly completely unencumbered through the offensive zone.

With the momentum shifting, UNC grabbed one more goal before the period ended. Nikko Pontrello drove from behind cage, up and around the crease to put the ball on the far side, past Evan Molloy (6-4 SU). Syracuse looked great defending those dodges from X, but even getting physical with Pontrello couldn't stop him from getting his shot off.

The Orange entered halftime with a shaky 6-4 lead. After getting up 6-1 on UNC, SU had allowed three straight to end the half. Ben Williams had a great start but finished the half splitting faceoffs with Stephen Kelly. Williams would end up taking 12 of 21 at the X, but the matchup was very tight.

At halftime, the Tewaaraton Foundation released its list of 25 nominees on the men's and women's side. Only one Syracuse player found a spot on each list with Dylan Donahue being named to the men's nominee list and Kayla Treanor added onto the women's side.

The second half got off to a slow start. Goalie play and turnovers highlighted the opening minutes of the third. Finally, with 6:03 remaining in the period, Nick Mariano found Derek DeJoe on a cross-field pass. DeJoe caught the ball low and was able to use his momentum to get off a laser, low-to-low shot that beat Balkam (7-4 SU). The goalies continued to dual. With just under a minute remaining and Sergio Salcido begging for the ball on the near side, Mariano hit Salcido who sent a rocket into the top right corner of the cage (8-4 SU). The Tar Heels came away with the ensuing faceoff, but were unable to get anything going after Shane Simpson threw away a pass. Simpson continues to have a tougher than expected year and came up with zero points against the Orange on Friday.

The Orange had an 8-4 lead going into the fourth, but Syracuse fans are well aware of how precarious late game leads have been for the Orange. The offense got some good opportunities early on in the quarter with Balkam standing tall until Nate Solomon grabbed the pass from Paolo Ciferri on a quick restart and took it straight to the cage in the unsettled situation (9-4 SU). The Tar Heels would not go away however, and less than two minutes later Peyton Klawinski threw a cross-crease pass to Nikko Pontrello who batted it out of the air and clumsily into the net (9-5 SU).

At 7:41 remaining, the Orange got its final goal of the game. Donahue attracted the double team in the alley but gave them the slip as a flag rained down. Donahue managed a pass to Mariano, sitting just off the crease, and the leading goal scorer for Syracuse would not be denied (10-5 SU). Pontrello picked up one more tally on a five-hole goal that was followed up by another Brian Cannon tally on a shot from the wing (10-7 SU).

Syracuse finished out the final minutes of the game by slowing the play down and draining the clock.