The twelfth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels beat the 15th-ranked Fairfield Stags, 9-8, in front of 623 in attendance who braved the cold and rain to watch this thriller at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Saturday.
Attackman Marcus Holman scored five goals, including the game-winner with 5:46 to play in the fourth quarter, to complete a dramatic comeback against the Stags.
Tar Heels head coach Joe Breschi used two goalkeepers, Kieran Burke (4 saves) and Andrew O’Connell (3 saves), who split equal time in goal and sparked the Tar Heels to step up their effort at both ends of the field against a tenacious Fairfield team.
“I’m so proud of our guys,” Breschi said afterwards.
“These guys showed a lot of character. Guys are playing hard. I am so proud of their effort.”
Stags running wild
Though the Tar Heels established a 3-2 lead by the eight minute mark of the second quarter, it was Fairfield keeper Jack Murphy (16 saves) who made critical stops while playing in the rain-soaked field conditions and enabled his defense to clear the ball effectively up the field.
Fairfield went on a four-goal run that caught the Tar Heels off-guard and put the Stags ahead 6-3 by halftime.
Sam Snow (2g, 1a), Tristan Sperry (2g) and Nick Guida (2g) all contributed to the Fairfield scoring burst and causing Breschi to ‘call out’ his team, as he put it, during the halftime intermission.
“We talked about how important it was to see what kind of team we wanted to be in 2013. These guys responded.”
Answering the call
Replacing Burke with O’Connell in the cage placed a tremendous responsibility on the Tar Heels to pick up their level of play.
“Plain and simple, we needed to step our game,” Holman said. “Our upperclassmen stepped up in the second half.”
After winning only 4-of-10 faceoffs during the first half, it was R.G. Keenan who responded to Breschi’s call for improvement at both ends of the field, including off the draw.
“There’s no real excuse, I was getting beat of the whistle,” Keenan said. “Second half came, I knew I could play my game and I just came on the whistle, and beat him. If I give it to the attack and I do my job, then we’re going to score.”
Big stop leads to big goals
After stopping Fairfield from scoring with an extra-man opportunity while trailing 7-3 in the third quarter, North Carolina’s attack took over.
Joey Sankey scored the first of two goals on the day and sparked a three-goal run that took only 30 seconds for the Tar Heels to complete with Holman and Jimmy Bitter (1g, 1a) cutting the Fairfield lead to one goal.
Even while Sperry (2g) extended Fairfield’s lead back up to two goals, it was Keenan who continued to work hard on the draw, winning 8-of-12 faceoffs during the second half.
Not able to slow down the Tar Heels momentum, the Stags could only beat O’Connell one more time while the Tar Heels netted four more goals during the final quarter to win the game.
“It’s huge,” Tar Heels coach Joe Breschi said of his team’s comeback during the second half of play.
“We’ve got the toughest schedule in the country and that’s why it’s put together that way, so we can be in games, one-goal games and fight through it and battle through some adversity. For our guys to really grit out a win is huge.”