No. 2 Duke men's lacrosse falls in regular-season finale to unranked North Carolina

Senior attack Brennan O'Neill fires a shot for Duke men's lacrosse against Virginia.
Senior attack Brennan O'Neill fires a shot for Duke men's lacrosse against Virginia.

Icarus fell from the skies because he flew too close to the sun.

No. 2 Duke found its own wings melting Saturday, as a confident 8-1 run by North Carolina was enough to carry the Tar Heels to a 15-12 upset victory over the Blue Devils at Dorrance Field in Chapel Hill. 

Duke (11-4, 1-3 in the ACC) ended the afternoon with a 6-0 run to cut the game to three, but the team endured heavy blows in the first three quarters which proved enough to put head coach John Danowski’s team down and out.

Coming off a five-game losing streak, North Carolina (7-7, 1-3 in the ACC) welcomed its fiercest rivals to Chapel Hill with something to prove. The Tar Heels were ready to play on senior day, while the Blue Devils started off the match with flat feet, causing Duke to quickly face a 2-0 deficit. A left-handed rocket from senior attacker Brennan O’Neill put the visiting team on the board, but North Carolina kept heavy pressure throughout the entirety of the first quarter.

Perhaps O’Neill’s stick violation penalty halfway through the first quarter best exemplified his team’s early frustrations. By the time the first frame came to a close, the Tar Heels led by one goal to their ranked rivals.

It seemed as though both teams switched their focus to the defensive end in the second quarter, as neither scored in the first 10 minutes of the period. It was North Carolina that eventually broke the silence, as a bouncing goal put the home team up 6-4.

Despite its slow start, the second quarter ended with a bang. With 20 seconds remaining, a behind-the-back shot from Tar Heel graduate attack Logan McGovern put the hosts up by three, and two more quick goals came before the end of the half. By the break, Danowski's squad — who had trailed by just one a minute earlier — found itself staring down the barrel of a 9-4 deficit. 

To have nine points on the board after the first half against a Blue Devil defense that allowed less than 10 goals per game all season was no easy feat for North Carolina, and the Tar Heels season suddenly had new life.

North Carolina’s dominance to end the first half continued into the third quarter, as it earned the first two goals of the period, continuing to destroy any ounce of hope left for Duke. From there, the Blue Devils were able to momentarily slow down their rivals, but they still entered the final quarter down 14-6.

Maybe Duke saw its season flash before its eyes, as it seemed like the Blue Devils flipped a switch after the Tar Heels scored the first goal of the fourth.

Graduate midfielder Grant Mitchell started the run, scoring his second goal of the season with just over seven minutes remaining in the game. Sophomore midfielder Aidan Maguire gave Duke another 16 seconds later, and suddenly the Blue Devils were gaining momentum.

Senior midfielder Aidan Danenza joined the party with two goals in a row. And, on a stroke of bad luck for North Carolina, graduate long-stick midfielder Will Frisoli poked the ball away from the goalkeeper in front of the net and watched it dribble in for a score — his first of the season. Duke fans in Chapel Hill erupted on the sideline as their side had pulled within three. 

But, the Tar Heels finally were able to settle down the chaos that the Blue Devils’ run had caused. North Carolina gained possession and played keep-away for the final minute of the game, closing out a historic victory.

Beyond the significance of the teams’ rivalry, the game held extensive implications regarding ACC and NCAA tournament seeding. The top four teams in the ACC compete for the conference championship, and the Tar Heels sat at fifth in the conference before Saturday. The win put them in a tie with Duke and Virginia for the final two spots, but tiebreakers allowed the Blue Devils and Cavaliers to advance. 

In the end, Duke’s fourth-quarter efforts came up short, but they weren’t in vain. The six goals in the fourth put the Blue Devils ahead in conference goal differential — a metric used for tie-breaking in the ACC championship seeding selection.


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