The ACC boasts some of the top collegiate lacrosse teams in the country, so No. 13 North Carolina (3-0) was destined to have a tough schedule.
But a non-conference slate that includes No. 2 Maryland, No. 3 Denver and No. 8 Johns Hopkins means easy nights will be few and far between this season. So a three-game home stretch against unranked opponents to begin the year — capped by Saturday's match against Lehigh — was supposed to be a stress-free warmup for the impending storm.
The final results were predictable, as midfielder William Perry’s game-winner in sudden-death overtime on Saturday capped Carolina’s 3-0 start to the season.
The close competition in those games, however, was anything but expected.
The 12-11 win over Lehigh on Saturday was Carolina’s second consecutive overtime affair after beating Furman, 15-14, in an extra frame on Feb. 10. Head coach Joe Breschi says those unexpectedly-close games were good for the team — even if they caused some stress.
“The tightness of the games has been great for us,” he said. “It hasn’t been pretty in some ways, but the fact that we continue to battle and fight and scrap has been wonderful.”
Meaningful, the game was. Pretty, it was not.
The overcast sky threatened rain the same way Lehigh (2-1) seemed poised to land a serious blow to the jaw of the reigning ACC Tournament champions. The Tar Heels turned the ball over 11 times against a Mountain Hawks team that just wouldn’t go away.
So back and forth the game went in a contest that never went beyond a three-score lead either way. Most of the offensive damage was done in a first half that featured 15 combined goals — including one from senior attackman Chris Cloutier, his 23rd consecutive game with a score.
The second half was a different story, though, as both teams tightened up defensively. There were only two goals in the third period, one from each side.
“After that really high, back-and-forth first half, in the second half our defense really locked in," junior attackman Andy Matthews said. “I think that just slowed down the game.”
Lehigh took its first lead of the day with 3:04 left after Andrew Pettit scored his 10 goal of the season. Carolina answered with a point-blank goal by Timmy Kelly with 2:22 left to tie the score at 11.
And after Lehigh’s Tristan Rai hit the post with seven seconds left, the game headed to overtime.
Luckily for the Tar Heels, they had been there before.
“We came in after regulation ended,” Breschi said, “brought them to the huddle and said: ‘Hey, we were just here a week ago. We are going to win the faceoff, call a timeout and run a big-little and win the game.’”
That’s just what happened.
Midfielder Charles Kelly won the overtime faceoff — his 15th of 26 tries — and Breschi immediately called timeout. After that sequence, the Tar Heels were confident they would execute.
“I knew we were going to score, and I didn’t really care who it came from,” Perry said. “I was just lucky enough to capitalize on a very good pass from Chris (Cloutier).”
Perry scored just 31 seconds into extra time, his team-high fourth goal of the game, off the assist from Cloutier. After the game-winner hit the back of the net, Carolina had won three games they couldn’t afford to lose.
And that’s all that matters.
“It’s great rolling into Hopkins with three wins,” Charles Kelly said. “It’s a huge confidence booster, especially these two close ones.”
With the win, the Tar Heels will head to eighth-ranked Johns Hopkins on Friday, undefeated and battle-tested.
It's not what they expected. But they'll take it.