ANNAPOLIS, Md. —The fourth-ranked North Carolina men’s lacrosse team scored the game’s final four goals, including the game-winner by senior attackman Thomas Wood with 1:16 remaining in the game, to post a 9-8 come-from behind victory over Navy on Saturday afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. UNC scored six of the game’s final seven goals as the Tar Heels rallied from four goals down on three different occasions.
“It was a heck of a game,” said Navy first-year head coach Rick Sowell. “I am very proud of Navy’s perfromance and I thought for the first time the things we’ve worked on in practice actually showed up in the game. Unfortunately our effort was not good enough to get a win against an oustanding North Carolina team, but I think we have a lot to take away from this game.”
The Midshipmen dominated the opening half of play on both ends, taking a 3-0 lead after the first quarter and a 6-3 advantage into halftime. Junior midfielder Bryce Dabbs (Damascus, Md.) had an All-America-like performance over the first 30 minutes of play, scoring three of the Mids’ first four goals including each of the first two, while senior co-captain Taylor Reynolds (Babylon, N.Y.) pitched in a pair of goals in the opening half.
Navy scored six goals on 10 shots on goal in the first 30 minutes and overcame a 10-1 disadvantage in faceoffs against the nation’s leading draw specialist R.G. Keenan. Defensively, senior goalkeeper RJ Wickham (Penn Yan, N.Y.) turned away eight Carolina shots, as the Tar Heels put 11 of their 14 shots on cage.
With a 6-3 lead, Navy opened the second half with a two-man advantage after Marcus Holman and Thomas Wood were flagged for slashing and a cross check, respectively, as Wickham was advancing the ball. The Mids, however, failed to capitalize as starting defenseman Kieran McDonald forced a Dabbs turnover.
Navy was able to get the ball right back, however, as UNC’s Mark McNeill coughed up the ball. Just minutes later, the Mids pushed their lead to 7-3 thanks to an unassisted goal by sophomore midfielder Pat Durkin (Germantown, Md.), his second marker of the contest. UNC, though, would answer when Princeton transfer Jack McBride found Joey Sankey sitting on crease for the Tar Heels’ fourth goal of the game.
Senior faceoff specialist Logan West (Berlin, Md.) won the ensuing faceoff and Navy proceeded to hold onto the ball, meticulously looking for a quality shot for nearly three minutes. The Mids were stingy with their shots throughout the third and fourth quarters, taking caution of making any unforced errors.
“In the first half we wanted to control the tempo,” said first-year Navy head coach Rick Sowell. “We weren’t afraid to attack the goal, but we wanted to be sure we had quality possession. In the third quarter, I think we went a little too far the other way.
“We weren’t necessarily trying to shorten the game, we were just working for quality possessions. We were trying not to be reckless. At the same time, you have to give credit to North Carolina whose defense was outstanding in the second half.”
Carolina got to within two at the 3:17 mark in the third quarter when it utilized its man-advantage and Pat Foster used a stick face to bounce one in against Wickham.
It was Navy, however, that looked to take the momentum into the final quarter, as the Mids capitalized on a gutsy play by Dabbs with under five seconds to go in the third. With the ball loose, Dabbs came up with the possession on the far midline and was able to get it to teammate Tucker Hull (Charlotte, N.C.) before getting obliterated by a handful of UNC players. Hull grabbed the ball at the top of the box and quickly found fellow attackman Sam Jones (Annapolis, Md.) cutting, sticking the shot past Carolina keeper Steven Rastivo and getting the fans on their feet.
Despite the hometown fan encouragement, North Carolina came to life in the fourth quarter, scoring a game-high four goals and relying upon its veterans to rally the Tar Heels’ way back into the game. UNC’s leading scorer Davey Emala was held without a goal until the 12:12 mark in the fourth when he took advantage of a failed clear by the Mids. Although the Mids double-teamed Emala, he was able to thread his shot in past Wickham.
The Mids had a chance to answer back when at the 9:38 mark UNC’s Tyler Morton was flagged for a 30-second push. Navy sophomore midfielder Erik Hoffstadt (Dover, Del.) fired off a hard shot from roughly 10 yards out that would ricochet off the cross bar and go out of play.
Hoffstadt’s shot was the Mids’ lone shot of the fourth quarter, as the Tar Heels outshot Navy, 15-1.
Meanwhile, Wood, who sat out Carolina’s first three games of the season with an injury, scored two of the Tar Heels’ final three goals of the game, while Holman, an All-American, scored the equalizer with 4:33 remaining in the contest.
Wood led the way for the Tar Heels with his three goals, while Holman scored two goals and added four assists. Keenan won 18 of the game’s 20 faceoffs and picked up 11 ground balls.
Dabbs led the Midshipmen with his first-collegiate hat trick, while Jones scored a goal and added a pair of assists and Hull pitched in three assists. Reynolds and Durkin each finished with a pair of goals, while Hoffstadt turned in an assist.
Defensively, Wickham provided the necessary spark in goal, making eight first-half saves and 12 total on the day, while senior Ian Crumley (Oakton, Va.) and junior Jay Christopher (Winston-Salem, N.C.) filled in nicely on defense for the short-handed Mids.
Sowell sat eight players for violating team rules, including starting defenseman Nik Mullen (Wading River, N.Y.), while the Mids were already without starting long pole Pat Kiernan (Ridgewood, N.J.), who broke his hand two weeks ago.
“We had a few guys who let their teammates down and as a result were suspended for this game,” said Sowell. “This is about the team, about the program and holding players accountable.
“I feel good about what’s ahead of us,” added Sowell. “For whatever reason we didn’t play well last weekend and I don’t have an answer for that. But if we can play like we did today, I think there are a lot of wins out there for us. We have to continue to work hard and hopefully the ball will bounce our way the next time.”
The Midshipmen will be back in action next Saturday when they open Patriot League action and play host Bucknell. Faceoff is slated for 12:00 pm at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.