CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — If this was the game that proved North Carolina's program had arrived, then the No. 3 Tar Heels have made a major statement.
On a day when their top attackman, Billy Bitter, didn't play because of a leg injury and their top midfielder, Sean DeLaney left the game in the third quarter holding his ribs, North Carolina still had too much in a 9-7 win against No. 5 Maryland before a near-capacity crowd of 4,542 at Fetzer Field.
Maryland couldn't control Tar Heels freshman attackman Marcus Holman (Gilman), who did his best Bitter imitation with four goals and an assist. Fellow attackman Thomas Wood also had two goals and two assists for the Tar Heels, but the biggest difference in the game was North Carolina's defense.
North Carolina's long, lean trio on defense of Charlie McComas (Boys' Latin), Ryan Flanagan and Michael Jarvis were too athletic and mobile for Maryland attackmen Grant Catalino, Travis Reed and Ryan Young.
With long-pole midfielders Sean Jackson and Milton Lyles, the Tar Heels were able to extend pressure and push out Maryland's offense. And Maryland, too big and too slow, couldn't blow by North Carolina short-pole midfielders Logan Corey, Chris Hunt or Michael Burns, either.
Catalino, Maryland's top scorer, had a goal and an assist, but his goal didn't come until there were 17 seconds left in the game. Reed had just an assist, and both of the Terps' top midfielders, Jake Bernhardt and Will Yeatman, were shutout.
The last time North Carolina beat Maryland in a regular season game in Chapel Hill was on March 23, 1996. Now, the Tar Heels are 9-0 (2-0 in the ACC), and off to their best start in 17 years under second-year coach Joe Breschi.
"This is a great day for our program," Holman said. "We've had some tough times in the ACC the last five years, but now we've turned it around. It started last year with the win over Maryland in the semi-finals, and the win against Duke this year, and now Maryland.
"This gives our players and coaches great confidence. The hard work has paid off and we have really great team chemistry. Now we got to keep it rolling through the ACC and hopefully to a national championship," Holman said.
It was Holman who basically sealed the win for North Carolina. Maryland (6-1, 1-1 ACC) had pulled within 8-6 on two extra-man goals in the fourth quarter, the second one by Young with 7 minutes and 16 seconds left in the game.
But Holman took a pass just inside the box with 2:41 left in the game and then scored 10 seconds later from the right of the goal diving through the crease, which extended North Carolina's lead to 9-6.
"I knew that would do it," Holman said. "You give our defense a two- to three-goal cushion late in the game, and you know it's over."
Actually, Maryland was in the game for only a half. Statistically, this appeared to be a close game. Maryland held a 33-28 advantage in shots and beat North Carolina in groundballs, 33-28. Maryland also scored on three of four extra-man opportunities, but the Tar Heels controlled the pace of this game.
The turning point came in the opening minutes of the third quarter. With the score tied at 4-4, Maryland had an extra-man opportunity to open the period, and all the Terps came away with was a turnover. North Carolina scored three goals in the remaining time for a 7-5 lead going into the fourth period.
"If we had gotten that one, we could have built some momentum," said Maryland coach Dave Cottle. "We didn't, and they got the next two. When you hold a team to nine goals, you should win the game. Give them credit. They did a better job than we did today. When you're 6-0, it's hard to change things, but now we've got to make some changes."
Maryland either has to become more athletic, or take advantage of key matchups. The second solution is more likely. The Terps can get by most teams on their schedule with skill and sheer size , but they need to be more creative against teams with great athletic talent like Virginia, Syracuse and now North Carolina.
All three of those teams run and gun. All three of those teams extend defensive pressure to midfield at times. Maryland's offense was puzzled by what the Tar Heels threw at it Saturday.
"This was the first time we were pressured like this," Catalino said. "They kind of surprised us, and the next time we have to beat their shorties and force them to slide to us. Their defense is pretty good. But it's early in the season, and we'll learn from this. We'll continue to work hard, and we'll see those guys again. They are good, but they are not untouchable."
Well, for one day, they were.
"The scheme works," McComas said. "We have a lot of trust in our middies to turn people the way we need them to be turned. We press out a lot, and it has flustered a lot of teams, and it flustered Maryland today."