No. 1 Maryland's bid for a perfect season ended emphatically against No. 10 North Carolina, 10-8, before an announced 3,053 at Byrd Stadium on Saturday.
The Terps, who fell to 6-1 and 1-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference, had been the last remaining unbeaten men's lacrosse team in Division I after No. 2 Cornell lost, 9-8, to No. 20 Bucknell last Tuesday. But the Tar Heels (5-3, 1-1) prevented Maryland from its first 7-0 start since 2004.
"It's pretty disappointing," Terps senior midfielder Jake Bernhardt said. "It's the first loss of the season. We don't go into a game expecting to lose. But they're a good team. They came out and played fast right away, and we just didn't match their intensity and their speed in the beginning."
The Terps, who had entered the week second in the nation in scoring with 15 goals per game, were limited to a season-low total against the Tar Heels. They scored two goals in the first 5:30 of the first quarter before going the next 33:16 without scoring. By the time senior attackman Kevin Cooper converted a pass from sophomore midfielder Joe LoCascio with 6:14 left in the third, North Carolina had taken an 8-3 lead.
A beleaguered North Carolina defense, which had surrendered an average of 10 goals per game, held Maryland off the scoreboard for much of the game, and Tar Heels freshman goalkeeper Kieran Burke made 15 saves.
The Terps' scouting report did not suggest taking high shots against Burke, Maryland coach John Tillman said, but their offensive players kept trying to attack the goalie up high.
"That wasn't the plan going in," he said. "Sometimes shooting can be tricky, and sometimes where you shoot it doesn't always end up where you want. With the sticks and the balls and the pressure put on you, sometimes it doesn't always go where you'd like it to be. Sometimes what you see and when he shoots it, sometimes that disappears."
Maryland's heralded first midfield combined for 19 shots, but found few answers against North Carolina. Bernhardt, a redshirt senior, scored twice, but not until the third quarter. Senior John Haus and redshirt junior Mike Chanenchuk each scored a goal in the final period. Chanenchuk also added an assist.
The Tar Heels chose to put freshman defenseman Evan Connell (Calvert Hall) on Bernhardt and sophomore long-stick midfielder Ryan Kilpatrick on Haus to limit their ability to create up top and on the dodge.
"We had a plan to double-pole them all week, because their midfield is so lethal up top, and they're such a good team and explosive offensively," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "They love to dodge the short sticks. So we double-poled, and we were going to slide if we needed to. Kieran Burke made some outside saves, and we wanted to cover the crease."
On the flip side, the starting attack powered the Tar Heels. Sophomore Jimmy Bitter had five points (three goals and two assists), senior Marcus Holman (Gilman) had four (two goals and two assists), and sophomore Joey Sankey had four goals.
That trio combined for eight of North Carolina's 10 goals despite Terps redshirt junior goalie Niko Amato finishing with 12 saves.
"Their attack is pretty much the heart and soul of their team," Amato said. "They do a lot of picks. [Nos.] 4 [Bitter] and 11 [Sankey] are pretty quick, and No. 1 [Holman] is more of a quarterback. They played a good game."
The Tar Heels have beaten Maryland in five of the teams' past seven meetings, but North Carolina earned its first back-to-back wins of the season and — perhaps more importantly — some much-needed momentum.
"It's definitely our biggest win so far," Holman said. "After a couple close one-goal losses, it feels good to kind of get a big win, a signature win, especially on the road against a really good Maryland team. I'm sure we'll see them down the road again .... whether it's in the ACC's or the playoffs. We're just going to use this to continue to try to get better. We've got a couple tough games coming up here in the next few weeks or so, and we're going to use this as momentum and try to keep it going."