Tar Heels stop Johns Hopkins in men's lacrosse OT thriller

Mar. 30, 2013 @ 09:17 PM

The 42nd edition of one of the most storied rivalries in collegiate men’s lacrosse ended in exciting fashion as the seventh-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels (7-3) came out on top with an 11-10 overtime victory over the 10th-ranked Johns Hopkins Blue Jays (6-3) at Kenan Stadium on Saturday.

It had been four seasons since Carolina played a game at Kenan, and that was in the championship game of the 2009 ACC Tournament against Duke, so hosting the Blue Jays there, on a weekend when many of the program’s alumni were on hand as part of a crowd of 5,922, couldn’t have ended any better.

With the score tied 10-10 after regulation, faceoff specialist R.G. Keenan won the draw, raced down the field on the fast break and scored in a matter of six seconds to give the Tar Heels the win, their fourth in as many games.

“Just really proud of the overall effort we got,” Tar Heels head coach Joe Breschi said.

“We got contributions from so many different guys.”

Midfielder Davey Emala led North Carolina’s offense with three goals, while attackmen Marcus Holman and Joey Sankey added two apiece, and along with Keenan, Jimmy Bitter, Chad Tutton and Ryan Creighton each added singles.

Goalkeeper Kieran Burke played a critical role in keeping the Hopkins offense in check during the first half, and ended up making 12 saves while the Blue Jays peppered him with 48 shot attempts throughout the game.

Keenan went 11 for 24 on faceoffs during the game, but won the most important draw when he needed to after struggling at various points during the game, and gave his teammates and fans a reason to celebrate a big victory.

“I was just fortunate — won the faceoff, ran down, confident in my shot and stuck it,” Keenan said.

The win over another ranked opponent has the Tar Heels on a steep upswing after upsetting the then-top ranked and fellow ACC opponent Maryland Terrapins 10-8 last weekend as they enter the final part of their schedule before they host the ACC Tournament in Kenan at the end of April.

The game against Johns Hopkins represents the longest standing non-conference rivalry on UNC’s schedule as the teams have played every year during the regular season since 1982.

The series was initiated by UNC Hall of Fame coach Willie Scroggs and then-Hopkins’ coach Henry Ciccarone, and over the years has seen the programs win a combined 13 NCAA titles.

Even though the Blue Jays held a 24-17 edge in the two teams’ all-time series coming into the game, with the victory the Tar Heels have won six of their last seven games against Hopkins.

It’s a game that North Carolina intends to keep on its schedule for years to come.

“I think it’s huge,” Breschi said of the significance in playing Johns Hopkins.

“Lacrosse is a very tight, family-oriented community. We’ve been great friends for years and to continue playing them whenever we can fit it in will be great.”

Breschi and Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, a former Blue Jay defenseman, roomed together when they played on gold-medal winning Team USA squads, and have an appreciation for what this game means to them and their programs.

“This is a great game for lacrosse,” Pietramala said. “It’s two heavyweights swingin’ at each other. It was played in a nice venue today. It was a very good game with two quality teams who do a good job recruiting, so moving forward it’s an important game to us and we’d like to see it continued to be played — no matter what the conference alignments become.

“I think it’s just a good game for the sport of lacrosse.”