May 17, 2010

By Neil Amato
Special to

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - No fewer than six players took turns defending the nation's leading goal scorer. On one play in the first quarter, five North Carolina defenders tried to surround Delaware's Curtis Dickson.

Though Dixon created plenty of havoc against North Carolina on Sunday night, drawing at least five penalties, he didn't score a goal for the first time since March 2009. If he had scored just once, who knows how this one would have ended. Instead, North Carolina exhaled, escaping the 13th-seeded Blue Hens 14-13 at Fetzer Field.

North Carolina could be happy with its defense on Dickson, even though it was on pace to allow 24 goals to the rest of the Blue Hens after a 6-6 first quarter. Dickson had two assists, and he drew perhaps five penalties, but he never found the back of the net.

Dixon put up 62 goals this season, an average of 3.88 a game coming in, and he also led the nation with 75 points. But he had just four shots, including one with 1 minute, 20 seconds remaining that UNC goalkeeper Chris Madalon deflected, scooting the ball out of danger and preserving the final margin.

"I kind of turned and shot it underhand, and it might have hit off the back of his heel and just squeaked out the side there," Dickson said. "It was a close one. It was tough to swallow."

Dickson's teammates took advantage of their opportunities right away. Twenty-two seconds in, after a Dickson-drawn penalty gave the Blue Hens an extra-man advantage, Martin Cahill fired past Madalon for an early lead.

For the Tar Heels, who seemed so amped up when returning to the field (the game was delayed 90 minutes by lightning), the score was a shock.

Even as the Tar Heels continued to score - and allow - first-period goals, they stuck with their game plan, mainly using the 6-foot-5 Michael Jarvis to deny Dickson as much as possible. Jarvis said he knew he would get help from a sliding teammate, or two, but he admitted the strategy was a new one for the Tar Heels, in terms of who they put on the Dickson.

"Usually, we shut guys off with a short-stick midfielder," Jarvis said. "But I think Curtis deserves a (long-stick defender). We have never played a long pole to shut somebody off like that."

On one extra-man chance, Delaware had Dickson stand off the side, essentially out of the play. Delaware's other players went 5-on-4 as Jarvis stood with the idle Dickson. UNC coach Joe Breschi said Delaware's statistics showed what he knew, that Dickson clearly was special. "He had 155 shots and 75 points, and the next guy down had 38 points (for the season)," Breschi said. "It was clear that he was the catalyst." Jarvis was the main man on Dickson but he had help from Kevin Piegare, Ryan Flanagan, Greg McBride, Charlie McComas and Tyler Morton. Jarvis was physical with Dickson, being whistled for two penalties against Dickson on the same Delaware possession.

"He was taking a beating, but he kept getting up," Jarvis said. "He dodges extremely hard, so we had to just throw out whoever we could at him and try to slow him down."

The strategy left Delaware's Anthony Ruiz with more room to operate, and he took advantage, scoring a career-best four goals; Ruiz came into the game with seven goals this season. The Tar Heels wanted someone besides Dickson to beat them, and though the outcome was not decided until the final seconds, the strategy worked. "They're pretty much faceguarding," Dickson said. "It was pretty frustrating. Even when I got a chance or got the ball, they were sliding two or three guys at me. Unfortunately, we came out on the wrong end."