COLLEGE PARK -- In a season of upsets, the University of Maryland almost pulled off perhaps the biggest last night.
But North Carolina midfielder Donnie McNichol, racing from behind to the left of the goal, scored with 14 seconds left in the game, as the second-ranked and top-seeded Tar Heels defeated the No. 5 Terps, 11-10, last night in the championship game of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament at Byrd Stadium.
The winning goal came off a set play after North Carolina (11-2) had called a timeout with 25 seconds left to play. The Tar Heels' John Webster took the restart to the right of the goal, then passed to McNichol behind the goal. McNichol, who had matched up with a short-stick midfielder, then raced past him and faked low and shot high for the score.
"We got the ball where we wanted it, and he was supposed to have four options off the play," said North Carolina coach Dave Klarmann of McNichol. "But it's great when you can slam dunk it without having to use the options."
The win was the ninth in a row for North Carolina, which has won all four ACC titles. The loss should not hurt Maryland (7-4) in the seedings for the playoffs, but it could be tough recovering mentally.
Maryland had a 7-3 lead at the half, and even after a four-goal North Carolina barrage in the third period that tied the score at 7, Maryland found a way to take a 9-7 lead with nearly 11 minutes left in the game and a 10-9 lead on a goal by Dave Willard with 3:06 remaining.
North Carolina's Robin Cornish scored with 1:49 remaining to tie it at 10.
"Our kids played their hearts out," said Maryland coach Dick Edell, who came close to tears three times during his post-game news conference. "We gave quality back-to-back efforts in this tournament. We played awfully well, awfully well."
"It was a great team effort," said Maryland freshman attackman Rob Chomo, who finished with three goals and four assists. "We had the momentum after the second period, and they took it back in the third. We recaptured it with the two goal lead in the fourth, but maybe we became too relaxed and we started feeling good about the victory. This is a very tough loss."
Maryland looked lethargic in the first period, but the Terps
managed a 2-2 tie. The Tar Heels outshot Maryland, 12-2, in the first period, but failed to capitalize on two Maryland penalties.
Maryland went to a zone defense after North Carolina scored its second goal early in the quarter, and the defense gave the Tar Heels trouble.
The Tar Heels took a 2-0 lead with 10:06 left in the first period. North Carolina midfielder Ryan Wade picked up a ground ball and fed junior attackman Steve Speers just outside the crease for a goal with 13:04 left in the first period.
North Carolina attackman John Webster scored on a 30-foot shot off an extra-man opportunity nearly three minutes later.