It was a good day to be a sophomore midfielder on the North Carolina men's lacrosse team.
Heading into overtime against Furman University on a rainy Saturday afternoon, sophomore midfielders Justin Anderson and Tanner Cook had already left their mark on the No. 9 Tar Heels. But they did so in different ways: Anderson as a distributor and Cook as a scorer.
Anderson had three assists entering the extra period. However, it was his skill as a scorer that gave his team the upper hand by the end. His one and only goal came early in overtime.
After receiving the ball directly behind the goal from senior attackman Chris Cloutier, Anderson began his attacking approach. The sophomore found his opportunity to strike, and ultimately he took it by going around the net and scoring from around 18 feet outside — allowing UNC (2-0) to escape an upset with a 15-14 win.
“I noticed that they didn’t have a guy on the crease, ready to come for me,” Anderson said. “So I felt like I got enough room around him and just let it release.”
Cook finished with a career-high five goals. Through the first two games of the early season, the midfielder scored eight times. By comparison, Cook had a total of 10 goals in his first year as a Tar Heel.
“It was just one of those games where it feels like you are in the right spots in the right moments,” Cook said. “Everything is just going your way.”
Saturday was truly a game of runs. Furman (0-2) came out firing on all cylinders, establishing an early 4-1 lead with 3:32 left in the first quarter. Shortly after that, UNC exploded for eight unanswered goals and a 12-6 advantage late in the third period.
Despite the setback, Furman wasn’t ready to give up.
The Paladins clawed their way back into the game by scoring four goals within almost six minutes, closing the gap to 12-10. UNC was able to temporarily slow down the momentum with a goal by William Perry with around ten minutes to spare.
Furman continued to push the tempo and forced its opposition to make crucial mistakes. The perseverance paid off, as Mike Liscombe scored with 2:09 left to give the Paladins their first lead since the second quarter, putting the Tar Heels in a tough spot.
UNC kept its composure, as Charles Kelly won the face-off that would lead to the equalizing score by Chris Cloutier with 1:16 remaining.
Once the game made it into overtime, the rest was history.
North Carolina head coach Joe Breschi has been trying to stress to the team that playing for a blue blood program like UNC will certainly invite many challengers, as it did Saturday.
“Our guys got to continue to realize that bullseye on the chest is big when it comes to North Carolina,” he said.
Regardless of the blown lead, Breschi said he was quite impressed with the calmness that his team displayed in the closing minutes, especially against a squad that narrowly lost to the Tar Heels last season.
“I’m really proud of our guys for sticking to the game plan,” Breschi said. “For us to play a tight game like that, win a face-off at the end of the game, score a big goal by Cloutier and obviously the game winner, they showed a lot of poise.”
Despite the talented Tar Heel upperclassmen seizing the headlines, it was the sophomore midfielders who worked to establish their place as key contributors on a slippery afternoon for a perennial top-10 program in the country.