The North Carolina Tar Heels and Maryland Terrapins squared off Monday, with both seeking to end a lengthy national title drought in the NCAA men's lacrosse championship.
After its adversary bounced back from an early flurry and controlled the pace for most of the match, UNC outlasted Maryland for its fifth title in program history and first since 1991 with a thrilling 14-13 overtime victory.
Due to a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct on North Carolina attacker Luke Goldstock with 3.9 seconds left in regulation, the Terrapins had an extra-man edge for roughly the first minute of the extra period.
An extraordinary defensive stand got Goldstock off the hook, and the refs called Maryland's Mike McCarney for a cross-check to give the Tar Heels a man advantage. Star sophomore Chris Cloutier scored his 19th goal of the NCAA tournament with 1:49 left in overtime for the game-winner, courtesy of Lacrosse Magazine:
ESPN's Andrew Brandt had an appropriate reaction to Cloutier's winner, which was his fifth goal, a game high:
UNC racked up four goals inside the opening five minutes to set the tone early, but Maryland wound up with an 8-7 halftime lead, scoring three unanswered goals to close out the second quarter.
Patrick Stevens highlighted how historic the first-quarter scoring was for such a high-stakes affair:
Goldstock scored three times in the first half to pace UNC. Henry West and Matt Rambo led the charge for the Terrapins with two goals and two assists apiece through 30 minutes, including the go-ahead score by Rambo off a West setup:
Rambo also set up West and Connor Kelly, respectively, on the next two goals, which helped Maryland seize the momentum entering the locker room.
The Terrapins defense was also phenomenal during that stretch. They conceded six goals through one quarter but yielded only one in the second and three overall for the final 25 minutes of the first half, per Maryland Lacrosse.
Team USA lacrosse player Paul Rabil was among those who appreciated the entertainment value on display:
Rambo opened the second-half scoring at the 10:05 mark in the third quarter off a nice feed from linemate Colin Heacock, allowing Maryland to continue its roll from the prior quarter.
But after failing to capitalize on an extra-man situation, UNC finally got back on the board at the eight-minute mark in the third, as Cloutier halted a 16:59 scoring drought with his 40th goal of the season.
Cloutier then ripped another one home for the equalizer only 33 seconds later and put the Tar Heels back on top with his fourth goal of the day with 5:12 remaining in the third.
UNC Men's Lacrosse noted the epic milestone Cloutier achieved once his offensive onslaught concluded:
The eruption from Cloutier preceded a five-hole goal from Maryland's Kelly to even the score at 10 through three quarters.
Per ESPN2's telecast, UNC was minus-eight in third-quarter scoring this season, while the Terrapins were plus-25 entering Monday's clash. The Tar Heels did well to hang so tough given that disparity, especially since Maryland was able to control possession leading up to Cloutier's dominant sequence.
A cross-checking penalty on UNC's Evan Connell gave the Terrapins another man advantage. They executed this time around when Heacock beat Brian Balkam with 13 minutes remaining.
Although Steve Pontrello responded for North Carolina at 10:21, Heacock got on the board again from point-blank range 29 seconds later—despite being checked to the ground in the process by Jake Matthai.
Rambo found Kelly for the latter's fourth goal to put Maryland up 13-11 on a beautiful pass, and for a while the scoring quieted down as the Terrapins slowed the pace.
UNC got an extra-man advantage when West was flagged for slashing, and Goldstock made Maryland pay with a lightning-quick release to cut the Tar Heels' deficit to one. After a faceoff win, North Carolina midfielder Patrick Kelly scored with 3:22 left to make it 13-13. It was the team's second goal in a 31-second span.
That set the stage for one of the more memorable NCAA lacrosse finales in recent memory. Gene Morris of Newsday felt the NBA and NHL would be hard-pressed to top the battle between UNC and Maryland:
The Terps had won their prior nine one-goal games and 16 straight overall before Monday's Memorial Day loss. They had lived up to the hype as favorites but couldn't quite finish the job.
Despite 12 prior national titles, Maryland hasn't won the top prize in lacrosse since 1975, which will make this defeat all the more difficult to stomach.
This victory has to be sweet for UNC, which wasn't expected to progress this far after gaining an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament following an 8-6 regular season. Cloutier figures to lead the Tar Heels for the next couple of years and should benefit from a monster postseason.
GoHeelsTV posted a moving interview from North Carolina coach Joe Breschi in the immediate aftermath of the overtime win:
Geoff Shannon of Inside Lacrosse logged quotes from both teams following Monday's showcase. Among them was Cloutier discussing how teammate Michael Tagliaferri set him up for the winner.
"What better time to make a stop on man-down than in the national championship," said Balkam, per Shannon.
Breschi said at the presser: "It's been an incredible journey, and I'm thrilled for these young men, what they've meant to this program and to UNC."
Junior Maryland midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allen provided his thoughts on the crushing loss.
"Honestly, the first thing that crossed my mind was how sad I was for our seniors," Davis-Allen said. He also said of the Terrapins' defense, "I don't think it's one thing...we didn't play how we wanted to, but credit to them, they executed on all parts."
Maryland coach John Tillman spoke about the tactics used with the extra-man advantage in overtime, saying: "We picked something that was pretty versatile. We kept it basic and I thought we got a pretty good look."
Tillman also admitted to how difficult the defeat was and how he addressed his players afterward.
"I told them, I loved them, which I do...seeing those faces is tough." Tillman said. He added, "I can't feel sorry for myself, I have to look out for them...I can't make them feel better right now."