April 22, 2017
By John Heisler
One-goal games have come cheaper by the dozen this spring in Atlantic Coast Conference men's lacrosse action.
So, it was only fitting Saturday that, in the last of those regular-season league tilts, a single goal made the difference.
This time--on a day the Irish senior players were feted in their final regular-season home appearance--it was a Notre Dame freshman, midfielder Bryan Costabile, whose second score of the day made the difference. That one, with 2:44 remaining, enabled the sixth-rated Irish to come back from a two-goal deficit in the final 10 minutes to defeat 16th-ranked North Carolina 14-13.
That made it 10 ACC games--and six one-goal results (three overtime tilts). Syracuse is ranked number one nationally and the Orange finished 4-0 in ACC play--with all four of those contests determined by a single goal (two in overtime). For good measure, Syracuse added yet another one-score result of its own Saturday (a 9-8 win over Binghamton), meaning the Orange has played nine one-goal contests in 2017, eight of them victories.
The Irish win over the Tar Heels came in front of a record Arlotta Stadium crowd of 5,000 fans on a mostly sunny and comfortable 60-degree day. This game, against the defending NCAA champions, long had been a marquee date on the Notre Dame calendar--with the contest listed as a sellout since January and no single-game ticket sale held.
Notre Dame broke out new white uniforms with green and blue trim--with Irish in green script on both jerseys and white helmets.
With the ACC Championship less than a week away and the NCAA bracket announcement two weeks down the road, Irish coach Kevin Corrigan knew it was time for his team to put its pieces in place. Notre Dame had 11 days between games (since a one-goal win April 11 over Marquette) and so enjoyed extra time to renew its health and focus.
"At the end of the year, this has got to be the marriage of all the things we believe," he told his team before the game.
"It's the knowledge of ourselves and when we're at our best. It's what you guys know on the field, what you trust and believe in. It's the time to trust yourself and go out and make plays."
With ACC Championship seeding at stake, Carolina scored the first goal of the game 48 seconds into the action. But the Tar Heels would not lead again until early in the final period. There were ties at 1, 4, 8, 10, 12 and 13 in a game of runs.
Here's how played unfolded:
--The visitors scored in the first two minutes of all four periods.
--Notre Dame answered the Heels' early tally with three goals of its own in a 4:13 span for a two-goal lead at 3-1.
--Carolina fought its way back to a tie at 4-4, so the Irish went on another three-goal run (in 4:27) for their largest lead of the afternoon.
--The Heels' Chris Cloutier had a season-high four goals overall, including scores in the final seconds of both the second and third periods.
--Corrigan's club posted a dozen shots in the initial period, then managed only 10 combined in the second and third quarters.
"Great half of being smart and patient and getting what we want on offense," said Corrigan at intermission. "We've been here before. Let's just go back and keep doing these things that are working--we're working hard without the ball."
--Four straight Carolina goals (one at the end of the third period and the first three in the final quarter) made it 12-10 for the Heels. The fourth Cloutier score marked the last of those at the 10:20 mark of the fourth period.
--From there Carolina's only two penalties of the day proved costly. A Tar Heel faceoff violation (third of the half) gave Notre Dame the man advantage--and Brendan Collins needed only 14 seconds to bury the ball in the back of the net on an unassisted play to cut the Heels' edge to one. Then a 30-second pushing penalty against Carolina allowed Sergio Perkovic to score the second of his three goals a dozen seconds into the penalty situation to tie the game at 12.
--Perkovic completed a 3-0 Irish run to make it 13-12 for the home team at 7:01. Carolina tied it again at the 5:56 mark, then turned the ball over on a warding call. Perkovic and Pierre Byrne missed shots before Costabile knocked through what proved to be the game-winner (from Perkovic) with 2:44 on the clock.
--The Irish won the critical faceoff after that last goal, and the ensuing frenzied few minutes produced a shot clock violation against Notre Dame, two North Carolina turnovers and a crucial late ground ball pickup by John Sexton.
--Notre Dame's Mikey Wynne had five goals in the first three periods to establish a season high.
The victory means Notre Dame (7-3 overall, 2-2 in ACC play) is the number-three seed in the ACC Championship next week at Duke, meaning the Irish will play the second-seeded Blue Devils in the Friday late game.
Fourth-seeded Carolina (5-6 overall, 1-3 in the ACC) finds its back against the wall, matched up against top-rated Syracuse in the Friday night opener. The Heels now need to win both their games in the ACC event to even be eligible for NCAA selection (at least a .500 record is required).
Last year, on the exact same weekend, top-ranked Notre Dame led North Carolina 15-10 with 10 minutes to go after a Perkovic score, only to see the Heels account for the final seven goals. Carolina fell to Syracuse a week later in the ACC semifinals, then never lost again on its way to the NCAA title.
Corrigan is hoping his 2017 Irish can catch fire in May in that same fashion.
The all-time series between these two programs now is tied 8-8, and all but one meeting have been decided by three goals or fewer (the outlier was the 2016 NCAA quarterfinal meeting).
"That wasn't pretty, but that was gutsy," Corrigan shouted to his squad in the seconds immediately after the game ended.
Later in the locker room he added, "What you don't see on the film is the will to win. That's what was out there today. We just refused to lose that game.
"We had every reason, after being up, we got down two and then we just made plays. There's no substitute for that.
"If we can just marry all these things, that's the stuff, that's the secret sauce. We've got to keep working toward that."
Senior defender Garrett Epple led the Irish with seven ground balls and three caused turnovers. Perkovic now has combined for 11 goals and three assists (two Saturday) in his last three games. Brendan Gleason, Costabile and Collins each accounted for three points Saturday. Wynne's goal production Saturday was last surpassed in an early 2016 outing when he had six.
Saturday's result marked Carolina's second one-goal conference loss in as many Saturdays.
For the Irish (number one this week in the NCAA RPI; Carolina was ninth) it was their fourth one-goal victory in 2017--and their sixth one-goal differential (naturally) in 10 outings.
Corrigan and his crew will take them any way they can get them the rest of the way.
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings on UND.com.