Every coach expects his seniors to lead the team in each workout, practice and game. But there are some moments where it takes a little something more, something extra — something that seems to be reserved for seniors only.
North Carolina men’s lacrosse coach Joe Breschi got that something extra from his seniors Sunday as the No. 4 Tar Heels came from behind and hung on late to beat archrival and two-time defending NCAA champion Duke 15-14.
Five thousand, seven hundred and eleven people filed into Fetzer Field for the instant classic. It was the largest crowd at Fetzer Field for a lacrosse game since UNC hosted Johns Hopkins in 1983 and 6,000 fans were recorded before they stopped counting — and that was only because there wasn’t any more room inside the stadium.
Breschi’s three first-round draft picks, his three senior captains, his three-headed monster, did not disappoint. Chad Tutton, Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter combined for 10 goals and four assists to lead the Tar Heels to just their third win over Duke since 2005.
UNC drew first blood on a goal from sophomore Luke Goldstock just 13 seconds into the game. Just under six minutes later, Sankey netted the first of his three goals to put the Tar Heels ahead 2-0.
Then No. 6 Duke woke up.
The Blue Devils went on a 7-1 scoring run over the next 11 minutes and 45 seconds that gave Duke a 7-3 lead and all the momentum. UNC stopped the bleeding with 3:57 to play in the half as Sankey found sophomore Shane Simpson to cut the lead to 7-4. The Tar Heels added one more with just 23 seconds left in the half and went into halftime trailing 7-5.
The Tar Heels needed a spark, a stimulus — they needed a senior.
“I actually told the team we are lucky we are only down two because we were playing like crap, to say it lightly,” Tutton said. “So we brought everyone together and said we’ve just got to get back to what we’re doing and that’s what we did coming out into the second half and as you could see, it benefitted us greatly.”
Tutton set the tone early in the second half, netting his first of four goals just 38 seconds into the third quarter. An eyebrow-raising back-handed goal from Goldstock off his own rebound that ricocheted off the pipe tied the game at 7-7. The rest of the game belonged to the three senior leaders.
Sankey, Tutton and Bitter owned the last 26 minutes of the game, which saw four ties and three lead changes.
“The seniors made plays,” Breschi said. “Sankey, Bitter, Tutton — we’ve been riding those guys for four years now and they came out and made the plays when we needed them.”
Sankey found Bitter to tie the game at 11-11 with 12:41 to play in the fourth quarter. Then Tutton went off, rattling off three goals in less than five minutes to put the Tar Heels ahead 14-12 with just over seven minutes to play. The streak was highlighted by a SportsCenter-worthy, back-handed, underhanded goal from Tutton that left even fans in royal blue with their mouths wide open.
Both Tutton and Bitter credited the crafty stick work to Tutton’s Canadian roots, but Tutton was just happy to get hugs and high fives instead of an ear full.
“It’s kind of one of those things where if I score, then yeah, but if not then I’m going to hear about it. So luckily that one went in,” Tutton said. “I saw the goalie and there was no one in front of me and the goal. My stick was down low and I thought I could get it off before the goalie knew what was happening and it worked out really well.”
The energy from the UNC players and sideline was palpable, and it started to look like it was the Tar Heels’ day.
“It’s huge for us especially because momentum-wise as a player, even if you don’t score that goal and you see something like that, it brings excitement to your team so that’s good for momentum,” Bitter said.
The Tar Heel defense held on late, lead by junior goalkeeper Kieran Burke’s five fourth quarter saves, including one on a shot from Duke standout Myles Jones from 13 yards out that sealed the win for UNC.
“It’s the best feeling. It’s always great beating Duke, especially because we were almost in this exact same predicament last year,” Tutton said. “We were up a goal and they ended up coming back and beating us and it sucks.
"It’s the worst feeling in the world, and it’s the best feeling in the world beating them.”
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