Salisbury transfer Eric Law picked up a rebound on the edge of the crease and scored with 13.4 seconds left to cap a historic comeback and give No. 4 seed Denver a 12-11 win over fifth-seeded North Carolina in the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament quarterfinals at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday afternoon.
The game, played before an announced 7,749, was the first men's lacrosse quarterfinal held at a venue not on the East Coast.
Denver, the first team in men's quarterfinal history to win after trailing by five goals or more, will face No. 1 seed Syracuse in the semifinals Saturday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
The Tar Heels (13-4), who saw their 10-game winning streak come to an end, were unable to protect a six-goal lead and were outscored 5-1 in the fourth quarter by the Pioneers (14-4).
"North Carolina — what a train that was, trying to stop that coming downhill at us early," said coach Bill Tierney, who leads Denver into Championship Weekend for the second time in the past three seasons. "Mostly, I'm proud of these young men and teammates for persevering. You don't get too many opportunities in life to fight through such adversity and come back ahead."
Joey Sankey, Davey Emala (Gilman) and Mark McNeill (St. Mary's) each scored a pair of goals for North Carolina, while Steve Pontrello, Chad Tutton, Evan Connell (Calvert Hall), Ryan Kilpatrick and Pat Foster (Boys' Latin) each scored goals. Jimmy Bitter, Ryan Creighton, Marcus Holman (Gilman), Greg McBride (Gilman) and Sankey each had assists for the Tar Heels.
Law had three goals and three assists for Denver, and Wes Berg led the Pioneers with four goals and an assist. Colin Scott scored twice for the Pioneers, while Cameron Flint had three assists.
Denver outshot the Tar Heels 37-35 for the game and 16-5 in the fourth quarter. The Tar Heels had a 24-22 edge in ground balls despite Denver winning 17 of 26 faceoffs in the match. Chase Carraro took all 26 draws for the Pioneers, who beat Carolina in the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.
Kieran Burke made 10 saves for the Tar Heels including six in the fourth quarter as the Pioneers staged their furious comeback. Jamie Faus, who played the last 50:23 in the goal for Denver, had 11 saves.
Carolina jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first 4:03 of the game. Emala scored at 12:03 off an assist by Sankey. Sankey was set up behind the cage and fed Emala on the left side where he scored on an eight-yard bounce shot. On Carolina's next possession, Sankey scored an unassisted goal at 10:57 as he dodged from goal line extended on the right side to finish low past Denver goalie Ryan LaPlante.
The Tar Heels extended their lead to 3-0 on Kilpatrick's first goal of the year. On a give and go on the break, Kilpatrick fed McBride. McBride delivered an over-the-shoulder pass back to Kilpatrick on the run and he scored on a bounce shot at 8:44. A little over a minute later, Carolina made it 4-0 on McNeill's first goal of the year, assisted by Creighton. The Heels scored off a successful clear with McNeill finishing low from 15 yards out at 7:21 of the first quarter.
Tutton scored the next goal for Carolina as he came in through the substitution box and scored on a low hard shot from 15 yards out with 6:36 left in the quarter. Connell scored the next goal for the Tar Heels, the first of his career. The close defenseman forced a turnover, scooped up the ground ball and on a quick clearing attempt he scored from 15 yards out into an empty net. The goal came at 5:24. Denver scored its first goal of the game at 4:11 of the quarter as Scott's first shot was saved by Burke, but the ball bounced directly to Scott, who finished on the rebound.
Each team scored three times in the second quarter. Berg scored at 12:29, assisted by Law to cut the UNC lead to four goals. Sankey answered for the Tar Heels with his second goal of the game on a bounced shot from 10 yards out in front of the goal at 11:04. Neither team scored for almost six minutes before Foster tallied for the Tar Heels at 5:25, taking a feed from Holman out front, turning a firing a shot by Faus.
Denver answered with two quick goals in a span of 26 seconds. Berg scored at 4:30 after a failed clear by UNC and after Denver won the next face-off, Law rolled the crease to score at 4:04. Carolina notched the last goal of the half as Pontrello scored in a timer-on situation, stinging high heat from 10 yards out on the left side off an assist by Bitter.
The Pioneers outscored the Tar Heels 3-1 in the third quarter. Gordie Koerber (Gilman) scored an extra-man goal at 12:39 followed 26 seconds later by a goal by Berg, assisted by Law.