CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- North Carolina midfielder R.G. Keenan has a habit of scoring late-game, momentum-shifting goals in his career for the Tar Heels. He did it again on Saturday on Senior Day as the No. 5 Tar Heels defeated the No. 9 Virginia Cavaliers 11-10.
Before a near capacity crowd, Keenan scored off his own face-off win with 2:28 remaining in the fourth quarter to rally the Tar Heels past the Cavaliers. Carolina improved to 9-2 on the season with the win and evened its ACC record at 2-2. The Cavaliers fell to 8-4 on the season and they are now 1-3 in the ACC.
Carolina has now won four games in a row over the Cavaliers, the first time they have done that since 1990-92. The Wahoos had also won the last seven games between the two teams that had been decided by a single goal. Carolina's one-goal win on Saturday was the first time it beat the Cavaliers in that scenario since a 19-18 victory in 1996.
It was a classic ACC battle in which neither side was ever able to gain clear footing. UNC twice led by a pair of goals in the first half, but after the teams were deadlocked 5-5 at intermission, neither team held more than a one-goal lead for the entirety of the second half.
Carolina carried a 9-8 edge into the fourth quarter but Virginia tied the game on Mark Cockerton's fourth goal of the match with 7:24 to play. After Matt Barrett made his 13th save of the game on a shot by Shane Simpson with 6:06 to play, the Wahoos went on a long possession, shooting wide three times before UVA head coach Dom Starsia called timeout with 4:10 to play. After another shot by Cockerton was off the mark, the Wahoos took a 10-9 lead with 3:38 to play as Greg Coholan scored his 10th goal of the season, assisted by Owen Van Arsdale.
Carolina won the ensuring face-off and worked the ball around for more than a minute before Pat Foster, who had a career high four assists, found a cutting Steve Pontrello all alone in front of the goal. Pontrello's 11th goal of the season tied the game at 10-10 with 2:33 to play.
Keenan, one of 12 seniors playing their final games at Fetzer Field, was perfect on the pinch and pop on the ensuing face-off as he seized the ground ball and went straight down the field and scored past Barrett just five seconds later. It was his second goal of the season. He also had the game-winner in the win at Johns Hopkins last Saturday.
The game was far from over, however. Virginia gained possession on the next face-off and a shot by Mark Cockerton went wide with 1:51 to play. Nineteen seconds later, Ryan Creighton forced a turnover by James Pannell and senior Mark McNeill scooped up the ground ball and cleared successfully for UNC.
Carolina was able to hold the ball until a timer-on violation with 19 seconds left gave the ball to the Wahoos. But the Cavs were unable to clear as Creighton knocked down Chris LaPierre's pass, gathered in the ground ball and ran off the final nine seconds before a raucous, partisan crowd.
Joey Sankey led the Tar Heels with three goals and two assists while Jimmy Bitter and Steve Pontrello each scored twice for Carolina. Pat Foster's four assists broke his previous career high of three set against Penn State his sophomore year and Bucknell earlier this year. Shane Simpson, Keenan, Luke Goldstock and Walker Chafee all had single goals for UNC. Single assists went to Spencer Parks and Chad Tutton.
Cockerton was his usual lethal self for UVA as he scored four goals on nine shots to go along with an assist. The Cavaliers had single goals by Chris LaPierre, Owen Van Arsdale, James Pannell, Greg Coholan, Pat Harbeson and Ryan Tucker. Zed Williams led the Wahoos with two assists.
Virginia had the edge in most statistical categories. The Wahoos outshot the Tar Heels 41-36 and had a 36-30 edge in ground balls. Virginia also won 14 face-offs to 11 for the Tar Heels. Keenan took all 25 draws for UNC while Mick Parks was in the face-off circle for all 25 for the Wahoos. Barrett made 13 saves for UVA and Kieran Burke made 11 for the Tar Heels.
The game may have boiled down to a pair of off neglected statistics. Carolina had 13 turnovers compared to 17 for UVA and the Tar Heels failed on only three clears while Virginia failed on the clear five times.
"I would say every game on our schedule is so brutal and so tough, I just compliment our guys for being prepared each week. We don't look ahead, we look at the next opponent," said UNC head coach Joe Breschi following the victory. "We knew with us being 1-2 in the league and them being 1-2, this was ... you don't want to say a definitive game, but we're now at 2-2 and we feel good about where we're at. Now we have to go up to Syracuse and they're fighting for their playoff life in the ACC in front of us. I'm just proud of us taking another step forward in this season, especially on senior day. We got a great group of 12 seniors. They've done a wonderful job all year of leading this group and to finish like this on Fetzer Field is wonderful for them."
Carolina took a 3-1 lead after the first quarter of play as goals by Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter broke a 1-1 tie and gave the Heels the edge. Bitter has now recorded at least one point in 37 straight games while Sankey has a point in 32 straight contests.
Virginia outscored the Tar Heels 4-2 in the second quarter to knot the game at 5-5 at intermission. Sankey's scored his second goal to give the Tar Heels a 4-2 lead at 8:37 but that would be the last time either team held an advantage of more than one goal. Goals by Van Arsdale and Tucker tied the game before Bitter's second goal put the Heels up 5-4 with 1:34 left in the period. Cockerton answered that goal just 14 seconds later, deadlocking the game again at 5-5.
Virginia took its first lead of the game just 59 seconds into the second half as James Pannell scored off an assist by Mark Cockerton. The teams traded goals before back-to-back tallies by Carolina gave the lead back to UNC at 8-7. Shane Simpson scored on an overhanded shot while driving the right alley at 7:55. A little over a minute later, Luke Goldstock entered the match for the first time and the freshman scored on cue less than a minute later off an assist by Sankey at 5:28.
Cockerton equalized for UVA as little over a minute later. Carolina then retook the lead on an extra-man goal by Walker Chafee, his fifth EMO tally of the season, off an assist by Sankey with 1:01 left in the third quarter.