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In second OT win, Kelly and Perry prove the difference for UNC men's lacrosse

UNC Lehigh celebration

The UNC men's lacrosse team celebrates after a 12-11 overtime win against Lehigh on Feb. 17 in Kenan Stadium.

The No. 14 North Carolina men's lacrosse team found itself in familiar territory on Saturday, entrenched in a second consecutive overtime match, this time against Lehigh.

Junior midfielder Charles Kelly had won the last three faceoffs of the game, so he was ready for the most important dig of the day coming up in the extra period.

“Just breathe,” Kelly said. “Just breathe relax and have fun. I just tried to look up into the crowd, just soak it in.”

UNC (3-0) was just in an overtime game last weekend, so the whole team knew the plan this time against the Mountain Hawks (2-1).

“I brought them into the huddle and said, 'Hey, we were just here a week ago,'” head coach Joe Breschi said. “We're going to win the faceoff, call timeout, run a big-little and win the game.”

Kelly won the faceoff and scrambled to grab the groundball by the right sideline. As soon as he had possession, Breschi called a timeout to rally the troops, just like he said.

The Tar Heels were calm, and it showed in their play. After the timeout, they started moving the ball around with purpose. Eventually it found its way to senior attackman Chris Cloutier, who knew exactly what to do. He worked behind the goal, from left to right, and launched the ball away from the crowded goal and found a wide-open William Perry. 

With three goals to his name already in the game, Perry collected the pass, planted and slung the ball towards goal. The shot flew just past the goalkeeper and under the bar into the top of the net to end the game, 12-11. The sophomore midfielder threw his stick high in the air and was swarmed by his teammates after connecting on his eighth goal of the season.

“I knew we were going to score and I didn't really care who it came from," Perry said, "because our offense is very unselfish, and we all played very well today."

This was not a clean game. But time and time again, UNC responded when it needed to.

The entirety of the first half was fast and furious, with both teams scoring and the offenses firing on all cylinders. With the score tied late in the second quarter, North Carolina got the ball back with just under a minute left in the half.

The Tar Heels worked the ball around for the final minute and found Perry behind the net. The sophomore found the space to the right of the net, drove in strong and finished with just seven seconds left on the clock. The goal gave the Tar Heels an 8-7 lead going into halftime, and was a big source of momentum for the team.

After the back-and-forth scoring in the first half, the second half was a defensive one. UNC and Lehigh each had four turnovers and five penalties between them in the third quarter, and both scored just one goal.

Turnovers continued to plague North Carolina in the fourth quarter, as the team had four more. Despite all this, the Tar Heels never seemed rattled. Even when Lehigh had stormed ahead to take an 11-10 lead, the Tar Heels did not seem to panic.

Kelly dominated when he needed to, winning eight of his 10 faceoffs after halftime. Faceoffs were the key for much of this game, with each team seeming to get a great shot after every dig win.

Junior midfielder Charles Kelly (26) faces off against Lehigh on Feb. 17 in Kenan Stadium.

Junior attackman Charles Kelly earned his hat trick with a game-tying goal at the 2:22 mark in the fourth quarter. Two late turnovers after the goal almost cost North Carolina the game.

After winning the following faceoff, the Tar Heels turned it over just a few seconds later. Some stifling defense got the ball back to UNC, but the team failed to clear the ball and had yet another turnover. Lehigh got another chance near the end of regulation, but its shot in the final seconds clanged off the post, and UNC was able to escape in overtime.

“It's February,” Breschi said. “We're learning; we're growing. But to win two tight games in a row, we’d certainly rather be on the left side than the right.”

This is the second straight overtime win for North Carolina, and these are the type of wins that the team needed last year. So many times the Tar Heels just couldn’t pull out the close ones last season, and it hurt them, evidenced by an 8-8 record.

And while easy wins look good when comparing records, close games are where you learn the most. UNC has a tough road ahead with games against No. 1 Duke, No. 2 Maryland, No. 3 Denver, and No. 8 Johns Hopkins, so the experience gained from this close win should help the team moving forward against some of the top teams in the nation.

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@YonaDagalosi

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com