It was a tale of two halves.
The Irish lacrosse team extended their lackluster performance against Penn State into the first half of their contest against North Carolina, but the Irish exploded in the second half, led by Matt Kavanagh's three goals and two assists as Notre Dame stunned North Carolina, 11-10 in Chapel Hill.
The Tar Heels scored the first four goals of the contest and controlled much of the tempo in the first half, forcing outside shots by the Irish offense and catching the Irish middies unaware on defense as the Tar Heels middies beat them on cuts and drives.
The performance was so bad that Irish coach Kevin Corrigan yanked goalie Conor Kelly before the end of the first quarter, replacing him with Freshman Shane Doss. The Irish trailed 5-1 at the end of the first quarter and 7-3 at the half.
In the second half, the Irish came alive. After allowing a Joey Sankey goal to push the deficit to 8-3, Notre Dame began to settle possession and put points on the board.
Matt Kavanagh, who was named to the Tewaaraton Award Watch List, set off the 2nd half scoring run with an unassisted goal and the Irish midfield, who went without a point in the loss to Penn State, made the difference. Tyler Brenneman, Sergio Perkovic and Jim Marlatt all scored goals in a 1:24 span to cut the UNC lead to one at the end of the third quarter.
Kavanagh tied it up 30 seconds into the 4th quarter, aided by the dynamite faceoff work by Liam O'Connor. O'Connor would go 16-23 from the center circle, winning almost 70% of his faceoffs.
Junior middie Jack Near gave the Irish the lead for the first time with six minutes left in the game and Freshman middie Sergio Perkovic would score the eventual game winner with four minutes remaining in the contest.
Before the game, all eyes were going to be on the matchup between Tar Heels attackman Joey Sankey and Irish defenseman Stephen O'Hara. O'Hara (also a Tewaaraton Award Watch Lister) did not disappoint, holding Sankey to just one goal after he had scored a hat trick in each of the Tar Heels previous three games. Sankey was forced into five turnovers as well, and led all UNC players in that department.
I wrote in my preview that Notre Dame would need:
-- 55-60% faceoff performance by O'Connor
O'Connor went 16-23 from center, winning almost 70% of his faceoffs. This was an amazing performance by him and definitely aided in the victory. By winning the faceoffs, O'Connor allowed the Irish to possess the ball and keeping it out of the hands of a North Carolina offense that was scoring at will in the first half.
-- Neutralize Sankey
O'Hara held Sankey to one goal. In his stead, Tar Heels attackman Jimmy Bitter was able to score three goals and an assist, but keeping Sankey off the board was more important. Sankey has the ability to dictate the pace of play and O'Hara effectively neutralized it.
-- Better play in cage by Kelly
Not completely blaming him for the quick scores by North Carolina, but Conor Kelly really struggled early in the game. He had trouble "seeing" the ball to me. What do I mean by that? Goalies in any sport can sometimes have an intuition about where shots will go, thus, "seeing" the ball. Kelly was too reactive, way too late on his steps, and was clearly shaken up by the 4-0 deficit, which is likely why Corrigan pulled him. That said, Doss played very well. I wrote that Kelly would need to save, "at least 10-12 shots." Doss ended the game with 10 saves.
-- Consistent play by the Irish midfield
Forget consistent play. By the end of the Penn State game, I was simply begging for the Irish middies to contribute. Against the Tar Heels, the middies certainly did exactly that. Perkovic scored a pair. Near, Brenneman, Marlatt and Brosco added goals. O'Connor was electric at faceoffs and the middies led the Irish in ground balls. This was a great performance by the Irish midfield unit.
-- Controlled play by Matt Kavanagh
Kavanagh had an up-and-down game against Penn State. While he was able to find the net, he forced too many shots and made some bad errors. He tightened up his game against the Tar Heels and looked like the best player on the field for much of the game.