The North Carolina women’s lacrosse team mounted two furious comebacks, survived a miracle last-second goal from Syracuse that sent the game to overtime, killed a two-man down penalty at the start of the overtime period and ended up coming out on top 15-14 to win the ACC title inside Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, Va. on Sunday.
It was at times thrilling and at others shocking. North Carolina went from the emotional high of scoring what they thought was the championship winning 14th goal with 36.3 seconds left in the game to the heartbreak of allowing Syracuse to tie the game up as time expired in regulation.
But the Tar Heels overcame it all, winning their first ACC Tournament Championship since 2002. For the team, for Coach Jenny Levy and especially for the seniors, all the highs and lows were worth the opportunity to hoist that coveted championship trophy.
The Orange came out firing, jumping out to a 5-2 lead midway through the first half. The Tar Heels dug themselves in a hole but climbed out of it thanks to a few goals from Carly Reed. Reed’s fourth goal gave the Tar Heels the lead back with 8:21 until the break.
UNC wanted to get to the half with a lead, as they were 13-0 on the season when leading at the intermission coming into Sunday’s contest, but the score was tied heading into the half at 7-7.
Syracuse again came out hotter than the Heels to start the second half. The Orange stretched their lead to 11-8 on a goal from Erica Bodt. The Tar Heels had put themselves in another hole, and again, they would climb out of it, led this time by the seniors who were desperate to capture an ACC title.
First it was senior Sammy Jo Tracy, who scored to make it 11-9. Then senior Aly Messinger nabbed the 10th goal. Then senior Kelly Devlin tallied the 11th and 12th, both on free-position tries.
Even after that flurry of scoring, UNC was still down 13-12. But one more from Tracy tied the game up at 13-13 a short time later.
Now here is where the fun starts.
Junior Molly Hendrick scored the 14th goal to put the Heels up one with 36.3 seconds left. It looked and felt like the championship-winning goal, judging from the reaction on the Tar Heel sidelines and given that the Tar Heels earned the draw control on the ensuing faceoff.
However, the refs stepped in and gave sophomore Marie McCool an illegal stick penalty, giving the ball back to Syracuse with a one-man advantage. Seconds later, the Orange were awarded a two-man up advantage for the game’s final seconds on a different penalty. Syracuse took the gift from the referees to get back in the game and ran with it.
The Orange earned a free-position try with 6.9 seconds left, and more craziness ensued. In a stretch that felt like it lasted a lot more that 6.9 seconds, Syracuse senior Kelly Cross corralled a last-second prayer of a pass and sent it into the back of the net, tying the game and sending the Tar Heels and Orange to overtime.
North Carolina started the overtime period two players down and with every ounce of momentum against them. But they were able to kill the first penalty. Then the second.
And after earning a man-up of their own, the Tar Heels found themselves in the attacking end with a chance to win the championship.
It was Messinger who seized that chance. On an isolation, she spun and fired, hitting the back of the net.
After all the emotional ups and downs, the North Carolina Tar Heels had won the ACC Championship.
The game was played at Lane Stadium on the campus of Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels won the ACC title Sunday on the same field where the North Carolina football team clinched the ACC Coastal Division title in November.
Three numbers that matter
14: Senior goalie Megan Ward made 14 saves, including some big ones late to keep her team’s title chances alive.
4: Junior Carly Reed scored four goals for the Tar Heels, all in the first half.
3: North Carolina is now 3-0 in overtime games this season.
The Tar Heels clinched an NCAA Tournament bid and will now wait for the weekend to see where they will be seeded.