CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - #12 North Carolina overcame a four-goal second-half deficit to claim a 10-9 win over #15 Fairfield in men's lacrosse action Saturday afternoon at Fetzer Field. Marcus Holman's five goals and one assist helped improve UNC to 2-1 while the Stags lost their first game of the season and also stand at 2-1.
The Tar Heels rallied from their biggest second-half deficit to win a game since beating Navy 9-8 on February 25, 2012 in Annapolis, Md. UNC trailed in that game 7-3 with less than 12 minutes left in the third quarter before the Heels rallied to win 9-8. Carolina faced a similar 7-3 deficit against the Stags Saturday in the third quarter before scoring three straight goals to cut the lead to 7-6 and then outscoring Fairfield 4-1 in the fourth quarter to finish the comeback.
Fairfield ran off five goals in a row in a span which sandwiched halftime in between. The Stags got the last four goals of the second quarter to erase a 3-2 UNC lead and when Jordan Greenfield scored an unassisted goal with 10:31 left in the third period the Stags led 7-3. On the same play, UNC's Steve Pontrello was called for slashing, put Fairfield up for a minute. But after winning the faceoff, T.J. Neubauer was stripped by Kieran McDonald and then Tar Heels scored on the fast break at the other end at 9:18 as Joey Sankey was assisted by Greg McBride to cut the deficit to three.
That sparked a three-goal run for Carolina in just 30 seconds. R.G. Keenan won two face-offs in a row. Keenan fed Marcus Holman for a goal at 9:05 and then 17 seconds later Jimmy Bitter rolled the crease and fired one off Fairfield goalie Jack Murphy and into the goal. Just like that it was only a one-goal deficit for Carolina.
The Stags would get the final tally of the third quarter as Tristan Sperry scored unassisted at 4:24. The Stags still carried a two-goal lead into the fourth quarter. Less than six minutes into the fourth quarter, the Tar Heels had regained the lead. While falling to the ground midfielder Chad Tutton scored for the Heels on a low shot below Murphy with 10:44 left. The Tar Heels then got the tying goal on a crazy sequence set up by Carolina's ride which forced Fairfield into eight failed clears on the day.
After Carolina won the face-off, Murphy twice made saves on shots by Bitter but both times Carolina forced turnovers before Fairfield could even get the ball past midfield. On the second successful ride, Holman scooped up the ground ball, charged in unguarded and twice faked Murphy before depositing the goal in the back of the net for a tie game. Again, Keenan would win the face-off as he was 8 of 12 in the second half (13 of 22 on the game). Joey Sankey then shook his defender and scored one-on-one against Murphy for a 9-8 UNC lead with 8:48 left.
Fairfield would get a tying goal on an extra-man situation with 6:51 left as Nick Guida took an inside feed from Sam Snow to give the Stags their only EMO goal of the game. R.G. Keenan came up with the next face-off win and Davey Emala assisted Holman's fifth and final goal of the game for the eventual match-clincher, making it 10-9 with 5:46 left.
Except for a one-minute possession by UNC, the Stags had the ball for the remainder of the final 5:46 of play. Tristan Sperry hit the cross bar at 4:19 and two other shots were off cage. Jake Bailey was sent off for slashing at 3:14 but Andrew O'Connell, who played the second half in goal for UNC, stopped a shot by Sperry with 2:56 to play. Carolina cleared but a turnover with 1:33 to play gave the ball back to Fairfield which called timeout with 1:14 left.
The Tar Heel defense came up big, however, as Fairfield got only one shot off when O'Connell stopped Sperry with 38 seconds left. Despite getting two more ground balls, the Stags did not get another shot off and Ryan Kilpatrick claimed a grounder for UNC as the clock ran out.
Besides Holman's six points, UNC got a pair of goals from Joey Sankey and one goal and one assist each from both Jimmy Bitter and Davey Emala. Fairfield had a balanced scoring effort with Sam Snow, Tristan Sperry and Nick Guida each scoring twice. Snow also had an assist. T.J. Neubauer had had a goal and an assist for Fairfield.
Carolina outshot Fairfield 39-28 and won the ground ball battle 42-34. Keenan won 13 of 22 face-off to lead the charge for UNC at the X. He also had a game-high 10 ground balls, just two short of his career high. Two UNC long poles, Kieran McDonald and Ryan Kilpatrick had career highs in ground balls with seven and five, respectively. Goalkeeper Jack Murphy led Fairfield with eight ground balls.
Turnovers played a big part in the game. Fairfield had 21 and UNC 15. The Tar Heel ride caused eight failed clears while UNC only failed twice on its clearing attempts. Jake Bailey, sophomore defenseman, led the way with five caused turnovers for UNC while sophomore rope Matt Shannon had two.
After the Tar Heel scored the opening goal, Fairfield struck twice with Sam Snow scoring with two seconds left in the first quarter to give the Stags a 2-1 lead at the quarter break.
Carolina got the first two goals of the second quarter courtesy of Emala and Holman. But the Stags ran off four goal in the final 5:57 of the period to take a 6-3 lead at the half. There were four different goal scorers in that stretch for Fairfield.
The Tar Heels will next be in action next Saturday when they travel to South Bend, Ind., to meet third-ranked Notre Dame at 12 noon.