The stakes couldn’t have been much higher at Kenan Memorial Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
In the final regular-season game for the North Carolina men’s lacrosse team, a victory would secure a share of the ACC Championship. Not only that, it was an opportunity to get revenge on Duke, who beat UNC on an overtime goal back in April.
In the anticipated rematch between the No. 2 Duke team and the No. 3 Tar Heels, it was UNC who came out on top, winning 15-12 and hoisting the ACC Championship trophy. The energy in the stadium was palpable, with more than 4,000 people in attendance for the event.
“That was the first game where I really felt the fans,” said first-year goalkeeper Collin Krieg. “I think there was probably close to 5,000 people there, and you could hear them roaring, and it was just cool.”
UNC came out of the gates aggressive, with junior attackman Jacob Kelly and junior midfielder Henry Schertzinger both finding the back of the net within the first 90 seconds of play.
Duke responded with four unanswered goals, taking a 4-2 lead that wouldn’t last long as the Tar Heels proceeded to score nine straight goals of their own. That 9-0 run started in the first quarter with an unassisted goal from senior midfielder William Perry and didn’t end until the third, meaning the Tar Heels held the Blue Devils scoreless for nearly 19 minutes.
“We credit our face-off guys,” senior attackman Chris Gray said. “Zac Tucci and Andrew Tyeryar did a great job getting us the ball, and the offense was just flying around and playing really unselfish.”
Tucci, a junior, and Tyeryar, a sophomore, won 12 of 16 face-offs in the first half, allowing the offense to keep control of the ball and put continuous pressure on the opposing defense. In the second quarter alone, UNC had 22 shots compared to Duke’s four.
“We made that run, which was certainly the separator in the second quarter, and we just built on that momentum and hung in there and kept plugging away,” said head coach Joe Breschi.
It was a return to form for the UNC offense that was held to 11 goals the last time they had played Duke, their lowest mark of the season. This time, UNC’s attack — which averages the most goals per game in the ACC — got the edge over the Blue Devils’ equally impressive defense.
Having split the series at one game apiece and both finishing the regular season with a conference record of 4-2, UNC shared the ACC Championship with Duke, who clinched the title in its previous game.
This is the first season since 2016 in which UNC has won more than one ACC matchup, which was also the year that the Tar Heels won their last NCAA Championship.
“Whenever you can win an ACC game, it's really special, especially this year,” Krieg said. “There’s a lot of talent across the board.”
This is the second straight season the ACC has not held a tournament for men’s lacrosse, as recommended by the ACC coaches prior to the season. Now, the team looks forward to the NCAA Tournament, where they will be one of 16 teams vying for a national championship. The tournament bracket will be announced on May 9.
Gray made it clear that even though the team was excited to win on Sunday, their ambition lies beyond the ACC regular season. The Tar Heels are considered to be a top contender to win it all once the postseason rolls around.
“The younger guys did a great job playing for the upperclassmen, and the fifth-years in particular who came back to win an ACC Championship,” Gray said. “But there’s still a lot more work to be done, and our goals aren’t complete yet.”
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.