Syracuse, N.Y. – Senior captain Billy Ward scored with 2:57 left in the second overtime to lift No. 7 Syracuse (8-3, 2-3 ACC) to an 11-10 victory over No. 4 North Carolina (9-3, 2-3 ACC) Saturday night at the Carrier Dome, ending the first regular-season meeting since 1994 between the two lacrosse giants in thrilling fashion.
Ward's game-winner was the first of his career and it came on a feed from junior Randy Staats. Following a Syracuse timeout, Staats curled around the cage and spotted Ward on the left wing. Ward collected the pass, set his feet and fired from 10 yards out past UNC goalie Kieran Burke to clinch an ACC Championship berth for the Orange.
"I saw Randy had the ball and I know he loves going up the right side and he started doing that," Ward said. "The way they had been sliding all day was when the attackers were coming up they would slide down from us (midfielders). I saw my guy go and I knew Randy would find me. He did and I let it fly."
Ward tied his career highs in points (4) and goals (3) against the Tar Heels. Junior Kevin Rice led Syracuse with six points on three goals and three assists. Nicky Galasso, who transferred to SU from North Carolina, and Dylan Donahue both chipped in two goals.
The Orange rallied from three goals down three times (3-0, 4-1, 6-3) in the contest and outscored the Tar Heels 8-4 after halftime.
UNC claimed the early lead, scoring on its first three shots of the game, and the Tar Heels held a 4-1 advantage with 5:52 left in the first quarter. Two straight Ward goals at the end of the period trimmed the UNC margin to 4-3 heading into the second frame.
UNC's Chad Tutton and Billy Bitter tallied the only goals in the second quarter to extend the Tar Heel lead to 6-3 at the half.
In the third quarter, Donahue snapped the Orange drought with an unassisted goal 15 seconds into the second half. Rice scored just over a minute later to spark a 3-1 SU run that tied the game at 7-7.
Bitter opening the fourth-quarter scoring at the 11:59 mark to put the Tar Heels back up one, 8-7. However two straight Orange goals, including a low laser by Galasso with 7:47 left, gave the Orange its first lead of the night. The advantage was short-lived as Carolina responded with back-to-back goals by Tutton and Bitter to retake a one-goal margin, 10-9, with 3:10 to play.
The Tar Heels maintained the lead down the stretch until a 30-second clock violation gave the Orange possession with 31 seconds to go. After a series of timeouts, Rice capitalized on the miscue, scoring unassisted with 8.4 seconds left to force overtime.
The Orange would have won the game in the first extra session if it wasn't for Burke. The sophomore netminder made clutch saves on point-blank shots by Scott Loy, Donahue and Rice to extend the game.
Senior faceoff specialist Chris Daddio won the draw at the start of the second overtime period, his 18th faceoff win of the game, to give Syracuse the ball and Ward rewarded his classmate by tallying the game's final goal.
"I thought it was a great game for college lacrosse today," SU head coach John Desko said. "The overtimes, the back-and-forth, the goalie saves. My hat is off to North Carolina. This is a tough place to play (Carrier Dome) and they did a great job."
Bitter led the Tar Heels with a game-high four goals. Tutton had three. Burke finished with 14 saves, including seven in the second half and overtime.
Goalie Bobby Wardwell earned the win for Syracuse. Wardwell replaced starter Dominic Lamolinara at halftime and made five saves, while allowing four goals in 35:03. Lamolinara totaled six saves in the first 30 minutes.
Daddio turned a sensational performance at the X, winning 18-of-26 (.692) faceoffs and picking up 10 ground balls. He was even better in the second half and overtime, going 12-for-15 (.800).
Syracuse will be the third or fourth seed in the upcoming ACC Championship pending the result of next weekend's Maryland-Notre Dame game. Either way the Orange will face Duke in the semifinals Friday, April 25 at PPL Park outside Philadelphia.
The Orange returns to action next weekend when it pays a visit to Hobart. The Orange and Statesmen square off for the Kraus-Simmons Trophy Saturday, April 19 at 3 p.m. at Boswell Field in the 100th meeting between the two Central New York rivals.
Game Notes: The Orange is 10-3 in one-goal games the last two years, including a 3-0 record this season … Syracuse has won four in a row against North Carolina dating back to a 13-12 victory in the 1993 national championship game, tied for the longest winning streak in the series … The Orange is 7-2 all-time at home against the Tar Heels .. SU did not score a goal in the second quarter, its first scoreless quarter of the season … Syracuse and North Carolina shook hands prior to faceoff as part of the ACC's Spring Sportsmanship Week.