CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Sophomore Chad Tutton scored on a overhanded bounce shot with three seconds to play to lift No. 11 North Carolina to a 16-15 victory against No. 5 Princeton on Saturday afternoon at Fetzer Field.
The game was played before a sun-drenched crowd of 4,362 raucous fans that witnessed the Tar Heels score twice in the last 37 seconds to pull out a much-needed victory heading into next Wednesday’s rivalry game against Duke. It was the largest crowd at Fetzer Field since April 7, 2012, when 5,138 saw Virginia beat the Tar Heels.
The two teams combined for 31 goals on 99 shots with the Tigers outshooting the Tar Heels 56-43. One of the differences in the game proved to be shooting accuracy. Carolina put 28 of its 43 shots on goal while Princeton was on cage only 25 times in 56 attempts.
Carolina won a game while giving up 15 or more goals for the first time since May 2, 1981, when the Tar Heels beat North Carolina State 19-17 at Fetzer Field en route to their first national championship.
The wildness of the fourth quarter was indicative of the crazy ebb and flow of momentum that existed throughout the contest. Carolina was up 11-10 heading into the final quarter before Jeff Froccaro beat Kieran Burke low to even the game with 11:46 to play. The Tar Heels reclaimed the lead on a Jimmy Bitter goal assisted by Marcus Holman with 10:11 left but just 22 seconds later it was tied again at 12-12 after a goal from 12 yards out by Mike MacDonald.
Within the next three minutes, Carolina went back up by a pair. An extra-man goal by Tutton, assisted by Bitter, gave the Heels a 13-12 lead at 8:04 before Joey Sankey took a pass from Holman and beat Matt O’Connor on a five-hole shot exactly one minute later. The Tar Heels got the ball back but O’Connor stonewalled Holman at the 5:34 mark and MacDonald scored his fifth goal of the game on the fast break just 18 seconds later.
The Tar Heels would not possess the ball again for 4:05 and in that span Princeton got enough looks at the goal to produce a lead. After Jake Froccaro won the ensuing faceoff, Princeton got off six shots at Burke in a span of 1:40. The Tigers won a ground ball battle near midfield with 2:37 to play and Tom Schreiber stepped up a rocketed one past Burke to tie the game at 14-14 with 2:30 to play. Jeff Froccaro won the next faceoff and Schreiber’s outside shot beat Burke with 1:41 to play with the assist to Kip Orban.
Then it really got crazy. Jeff Froccaro won the next faceoff and Princeton looked to kill time. But UNC faceoff man R.G. Keenan pursued Chris White of the Tigers into the right corner behind the goal and stripped him and scooped up the ground ball with 1:11 left. UNC’s clear was good and the Tar Heels called timeout with 53 seconds remaining to set up a play. With 39 seconds left, O’Connor denied Bitter’s shot from the right side, but in a wild scrum in front of the goal, Davey Emala scooped up the ground ball and scored on the rebound into the empty net to tie the game at 15-15 with 37 seconds left.
Keenan then won his 20th faceoff of the game and, after two quick shots by Holman, the Tar Heels kept possession with 11 seconds to play. After a Princeton timeout, Holman carried it from the left side and fed Bitter at the top of the box. Bitter quickly moved the ball to the right wing where Tutton finished the comeback with his bounce shot past O’Connor, sending the partisan crowd into a frenzy.
The game marked the fourth successive one-goal decision for the Tar Heels, who have split those four games, all against nationally ranked teams. The only other time in UNC history the Tar Heels played four consecutive games decided by a single goal came in 2009 when they won two and lost two.
UNC improved to 3-2 on the season. The Tigers fell for the first time this season to go to 3-1. They had run off successive wins against Hofstra, Johns Hopkins and Villanova to start the season.
Carolina had nine different goal scorers in the game with Bitter, Tutton and Emala each scoring three goals. Bitter also had three assists in the game, giving him six points, just one short of his career high set last year against Hofstra. Sankey finished with six points, as well, on two goals and four assists while Holman had a goal and three assists for the Tar Heels.
Sankey’s six points matched his career high in a game set last year against Mercer and Duke. Emala’s three goals were the most he has scored since tallying four in the opening game of the 2012 season against Penn State. Tutton matched his career high for goals in a game. He also had three against Mercer, Virginia and Duke last season.
Carolina got single goals from four midfielders — Jake Matthai, T.J. Kemp, Keenan and Ryan Creighton. Kemp also added an assist. The Tar Heels needed every last one of those goals to overcome a magnificent offensive performance by Princeton’s MacDonald, Schreiber and Jeff Froccaro. MacDonald had a game-high seven points with his career-high five goals and two assists. Schreiber had a six-point day with four goals and two assists and Jeff Froccaro finished with four goals. Jake Froccaro had a goal and two assists for the Tigers while Orban had a goal and an assist.
Another key in the game was Keenan’s work at the faceoff for Carolina. Facing four different Princeton faceoff men, Keenan won 20 of his 34 attempts and had a game-high eight ground balls. The 20 faceoff victories were a career high for Keenan. His previous best was 19 against Penn State on Feb. 11, 2012. This marks only the sixth time in UNC history that a Tar Heels player has won 20 faceoffs in a match. Shane Walterhoefer did it four times, including a school-record 23 wins against Ohio State in 2008, while Todd Oudemool was the longtime record holder with 22 wins against Towson in 1989.
The Tar Heels came out a little flat and Princeton took advantage to stake itself to a three-goal lead 8:13 into the game. MacDonald had the second and third goals in that run for the Tigers. But UNC responded later in the quarter with a four-goal run in just 2:01. The Tar Heels had four different goal scorers — Matthai, Emala on the extra-man, Sankey and Bitter — to go up 4-3 with 1:38 left in the first quarter.
Princeton scored three of the next five goals with Frocarro’s unassisted tally tying the game at 6-6 with 11:25 left in the first half. The Heels then went on a four-goal run to take their biggest lead of the contest at 10-6 with 4:31 left in the opening half. Kemp, Tutton, Keenan and Emala had the four tallies. They came in a span of only 3:01.
Princeton scored the next three goals, wrapped around the halftime break, with MacDonald scoring before intermission and then Jeff Froccaro getting the first two goals of the third quarter to cut the UNC lead to 10-9 with 9:50 left. Holman and Schreiber traded goals less than a minute apart and then amazingly neither team scored for 9:38, from the 6:24 mark of the third period until the 11:46 mark of the final stanza.
Princeton scored on all four of its extra-man opportunities in the game while the Tar Heels cashed in on both of theirs. Two true freshman goalies faced off against each other with Burke making 10 saves for UNC and O’Connor recording 12 saves for Princeton, including six in the fourth quarter. Despite the wild nature of the game, there were only 27 turnovers — Princeton committed 14 and Carolina 13 — combined between the two teams.