CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina junior face-off man R.G. Keenan will always remember the first ever game he played in Kenan Stadium. The Perry Hall, Md., native won the overtime face-off and scored six seconds later to lift #7 Carolina to a pulsating 11-10 overtime win over #10 Johns Hopkins before 5,922 fans and a national TV audience on ESPNU.
Carolina elected to play this game in the football stadium anticipating a crowd Fetzer Field might not be able to hold and to celebrate the annual Alumni Weekend activities. The game lived up to all the hype as the Tar Heels pulled out a win over their longest-standing non-conference rival. It was the second straight win for Carolina over Hopkins in a regular-season series that began in 1982.
UNC (7-3) led for most of the game against the Blue Jays until a three-goal run by Hopkins (6-3) put it up 10-9 with 4:36 to play on an unassisted goal by John Greeley. The Blue Jays won the ensuing face-off and got off three more shots before turning the ball over on a 30-second staling violation with 2:24 to play. The Tar Heels elected not to take a timeout and at the 1:30 mark, Chad Tutton found Davey Emala alone out front and the senior midfielder finished past Pierce Bassett for his third goal of the game and 12th career hat trick.
The Blue Jays won the ensuing face-off on a violation against Keenan and called timeout seven seconds later. The Tar Heel defense then held strong and did not allow the Blue Jays to get off a shot in the final 1:23 of regulation, forcing overtime.
In the overtime, Keenan’s anticipation of the whistle was true, he scooped up the ground ball and with Hopkins defenders in pursuit he elected to take it on his own as he saw no slide coming from the Hopkins close defensemen. Keenan finished between Bassett’s legs for the game-winner setting off a mosh pit of Carolina Blue and White in the Southeast corner of the Kenan Stadium turf.
Emala finished with a three-goal game for UNC while Marcus Holman had a goal and two assists, Joey Sankey had a pair of goals and midfielder Chad Tutton added a goal and two helpers. Sophomore long-stick midfielder Ryan Kilpatrick also recorded a career-high two assists for Carolina. Zach Palmer led the Blue Jays’ offense with three goals and an assist while Ryan Brown had a pair of tallies. Greeley had one goal and one assist for Hopkins while Wells Stanwick recorded two assists.
The Blue Jays outshot the Tar Heels in the game 48-37 while Carolina had one more ground ball (30-29), the difference being Keenan’s pickup in the overtime. Hopkins’ had a slight edge at the face-off X with Mike Poppleton winning 13 of 24 compared to 11 of 24 for Keenan.
Bassett finished with eight saves and played big in the second half as he had five of those after halftime as the Blue Jays staged their comeback. Kieran Burke had another big day in the goal for UNC with 12 saves. He registered 10 of those in the first half, keeping Carolina in the game and allowing the Heels to build a 5-3 halftime lead. His other two saves came in the fourth quarter when Hopkins outshot the Heels 17-5 but put only put five of those 17 on cage.
The clearing game for both teams was brilliant with Hopkins going 16 for 16 and UNC 14 of 15.
Carolina scored first just 47 seconds into the game on the first of three goals by Emala, assisted by Holman. Hopkins answered three minutes later on Brown’s first of two goals before UNC ran off three markers in a row to take it biggest lead of the game at 4-1. Sankey scored an unassisted goal before Ryan Kilpatrick fed Marcus Holman for the first of five transition goals UNC had in the game, making it 3-1 with 3:24 left in the period. Thirty seconds later Emala scored his second goal to make it 4-1 Carolina and prompting a timeout by the Blue Jays.
Hopkins got the next two goals of the game before Holman scored again from Kilpatrick on a fast break with 1:17 left in the half.
In the second half, Hopkins came out firing on all cylinders, scoring on all four of its shots on goal in the third period. Zach Palmer’s unassisted goal at the six-minute mark eventually tied the game at seven all. Carolina had the last goal of the third quarter as Ryan Creighton raced 50 plus yards on a one-man clear and scored top shelf with 3:23 to play.
Carolina went back up by two goals, again converting on a fast break with Jimmy Bitter scoring from Marcus Holman with 14:22 left in the fourth quarter. But that would be UNC’s last goal for nearly 13 minutes while Hopkins got tallies from Ryan Brown, Zach Palmer and John Greeley to take the lead 10-9 with 4:36 left and set up all the late-game dramatics.
The win was the fourth in a row for Carolina and its third win over a nationally-ranked team in the last week. Carolina returns to action next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. facing ACC foe Virginia in Charlottesville, Va., in a nationally-televised ESPN3 game.