It had the ingredients of an upset.
Start with a fresh loss against rival Duke, add a big game against the top-ranked Maryland looming and top it off with some moist conditions in a game against a team on the rise.
Harvard came to Chapel Hill knowing it needed a quick start and high energy if the team was to force the No. 6 North Carolina men’s lacrosse team to taste the bitter dish that is a midweek upset.
But while the Crimson brought those two crucial ingredients, the team missed the most important one in UNC’s 13-10 win — a strong finish.
“We knew it was going to be a heck of a tussle,” coach Joe Breschi said. “And it was.”
Before the game started, Harvard’s sideline was hooping and hollering, and after the Crimson scored the first goal of the game, that hollering didn’t stop.
By the time the game reached halftime, the Tar Heels found themselves in a game that was too close for comfort with just a one goal lead at a score of 6-5.
“At halftime you’ve got to just be ready for what’s in front of you,” said sophomore goalkeeper Kieran Burke. “We were just talking about settling down the defense, controlling the controllables.”
Assisted by a man-up opportunity in the third quarter, UNC extended the lead to a significantly cozier one.
After scoring twice in one man-up sequence on two goals from man-up specialist Walker Chafee, midfielder Chad Tutton dialed up a long-range rifling shot that pinged the upper right corner and ricocheted into the net to complete the three-goal swing.
As the offense gained steam so did the defense. And it started with Burke in goal.
Saving six shots in the third quarter, Burke made a ball that’s about 2.5 inches in diameter seems like it was the size of a beach ball.
“Burke big time bailed us out,” Tutton said. “It’s huge. When the goalie’s making saves it just feeds right up through the defense and right up into the offense.”
Harvard wasn’t done yet, though.
Working to find that last ingredient necessary to pull off an upset, the Crimson began feeding the ball to the inside, taking advantage of UNC’s suddenly porous defense.
Though Crimson players found difficulty drawing slides and beating their men one-on-one, UNC’s poor defense against off-ball movement allowed Harvard’s Devin Dwyer to record four assists and turn a 10-5 lead into a 10-8 nail-biter late.
But when the going got tough, Burke got big.
With momentum swaying back and forth throughout the game, the Crimson found one final offensive chance late.
But Burke took one hard step forward on a bounce shot for his 10th and final save to ice the game for the Tar Heels.
The 5-2 Harvard run in the fourth quarter didn’t matter anymore. Burke cleared the ball and watched his team run the clock down, capped off by one final open-net goal by midfielder Ryan Creighton.
Burke was living in the moment, not looking ahead, not looking behind. He had prevented an upset.
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