CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Junior Connor Cannizzaro followed up a Zach Miller late equalizer in regulation with an overtime winner to send the No. 2 Denver men’s lacrosse team to a 13-12 victory over No. 10 North Carolina on Saturday afternoon at Fetzer Field to improve to 5-0 on the season.
“Credit to Carolina. Coming off that tough loss here to Hofstra two weeks ago, then going to Homewood and pulling out a decisive win against Hopkins and then coming out here today and taking it to us until that great third quarter we had,” head coach Bill Tierney said. “I thought that we were playing as well as we possibly could have in the third and in the beginning of the fourth. It was an exciting game, all that the fans could ask for. We’re going to learn a lot as a team from this game, that’s for sure.”
2015 NCAA faceoff statistical leader Trevor Baptiste won 21 of the 28 faceoffs, after splitting the 2015 meeting with the Tar Heels 11-11. Miller, junior captain Tyler Pace, senior captain Jack Bobzien and Cannizzaro all co-led Denver with five points on the day. Miller had a team-high four goals in Denver’s victory, one off his career high. Bobzien and Cannizzaro joined Miller with hat tricks of their own, each with three goals and two assists. Pace had three assists in the first half and two goals in the second for his five-point day.
Cannizzaro opened the scoring with his 12th goal of the campaign, circling behind the cage to give Denver the early advantage. North Carolina responded with its first of two three-goal runs in the first half, including a man-up strike from UNC’s Luke Goldstock to send the home team to a 3-1 lead. Pace setup goals for a 2016 Tewaaraton Watch List selection in Miller and Bobzien to even the score at 3-3 after one quarter of play.
North Carolina jumped out to a 6-3 lead at the midway point of the second quarter before sophomore Brendan Bomberry ended Denver’s 10-minute drought on the extra-man off Pace’s third assist of the afternoon. The home Tar Heels led 6-4 at the intermission.
The Pioneers came out of the locker room with a 5-2 run in the third quarter getting two goals from Miller and Bobzien, who completed his 12th career hat trick, in the stanza to go with Miller’s second of the afternoon. Miller, Cannizzaro, Pace and sophomore Connor Donahue all picked up assists in the third, including Cannizzaro’s assist to Miller on Denver’s second man-up goal of the day. The Pioneers retook the lead at 9-8 heading into the fourth quarter.
Denver extended its second-half run to 7-2 off of Cannizzaro’s second of the day and Miller’s third to make it 11-8 with 6:32 to play in regulation. The Tar Heels fought back however with four-straight in a span of 4:26 to retake the lead at 12-11 with 66 seconds to go, setting up another close finish in Chapel Hill.
Out of a timeout with 26.7 seconds to play, freshman midfielder Austin French had the biggest point of his young career, feeding from behind the cage to Miller, who took a step and buried his strike with 9.8 seconds to go, and Denver tied things up at 12. Just when it looked like both teams would settle for an extra session, Baptiste won his 20th faceoff of the day and heaved it to Cannizzaro just inside the restraining line. Cannizzaro spun and fired as time was expiring, but UNC goalkeeper Brian Balkam kept it out sending the two teams to an extra frame for the first time in the series history.
Baptiste won his 21st faceoff of the afternoon to start the overtime, and after experimenting in their original set, offensive coordinator Matt Brown got his offense together once again to draw-up the game-winner. Bobzien found Cannizzaro on the game’s final play, and the junior buried it into the back of the net to send Denver to its 18th-straight win.
“Credit to our guys after all the stuff that was going on there near the end of the fourth quarter, Matt Brown draws up a play and Zach Miller comes up with a big-time goal,” Tierney said. “Then he draws up another one for the overtime win. Our guys executed well on those final two possessions.”