Junior goalie Jamie Faus (Lakeville, Conn.) made 11 saves and allowed just five goals in 50:23 to jump-start the fourth-seeded University of Denver men’s lacrosse team’s largest come-from-behind victory under head coach Bill Tierney, a 12-11 win over fifth-seeded North Carolina in the NCAA Quarterfinals on Sunday afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium. Denver is the first team in Men’s Lacrosse Championship Quarterfinal history to win after trailing by five goals or more.
With the win, the Pioneers advance to their second Final Four in three seasons, and will face top-seeded Syracuse next Saturday.
Senior Chase Carraro (Louisville, Ky.) won 17-of-26 face-offs in the game, including six of the last seven to aid the Pioneers to a 6-1 run to close out the contest. Carraro also picked up a game-high six ground balls.
“North Carolina: what a train that was, trying to stop that coming downhill at us early,” Tierney said. “Mostly, I’m proud of these young men and teammates for persevering. You don’t get too many opportunities in life to fight through such adversity and come back ahead. I’m just proud for everybody at the University of Denver and everybody in our organization.”
On the scoresheet, senior attacker Eric Law (Centennial, Colo.) led Denver with six points on his eighth hat trick of the season, to go along with three assists. Sophomore attacker Wesley Berg (Coquitlam, British Columbia) added four goals and an assist, good for his team-leading ninth hat trick of the year. Senior Cameron Flint (Georgetown, Ontario) distributed three assists, and classmate Colin Scott (Ridgefield, Conn.) turned in his fourth multi-goal game of the season with two off the bench for the Pioneers. Freshman Gordie Koerber (Baltimore, Md.), junior Jeremy Noble (Orangeville, Ontario) and sophomore Eric Adamson (Anaheim Hills, Calif.) added a goal apiece to round out the scoring for Denver.
Denver outscored North Carolina 8-2 in the second half, including 5-1 in the fourth quarter. The Pioneers started the fourth stanza with a 42-second two-man advantage, as Law scored his second of the game with two seconds left on that man-up opportunity to cut the UNC lead to 10-8. After a goal from Noble cut the margin to one for the first time since it was 1-0, the Tar Heels’ Davey Emala restored the two-goal lead with 7:34 to play.
Senior Kyle Hercher (Littleton, Colo.) picked up an important ground ball to lead to a Scott goal from Berg, and the Pioneers had the lead back to one with 4:44 to play. Denver’s defense stepped up again on North Carolina’s next possession, forcing a 30-second clock violation with 2:18 to play. After a DU timeout, Adamson scored the 25th goal of his sophomore campaign, and after trailing for 55:32, Denver was level once again at 11-11 with 91 seconds to play. Carraro won the ensuing faceoff, and after the Pioneers final timeout of the half, Law put away the game-winner in the midst of a stall-warning to send Denver to the National Semifinals.
North Carolina got the afternoon started with six goals from six different players to take the early advantage. Scott’s first of two goals came with 4:11 remaining in the quarter, but the Tar Heels would take a 6-1 lead into the first quarter break. Faus entered the game 9:37 in, relieving sophomore Ryan LaPlante (Fort Collins, Colo.) who was charged with the first six goals.
Berg got a goal from Law to cut the UNC lead to four, but Joey Sankey and Pat Foster found the back of the net for the Tar Heels, and with six minutes left to play in the half UNC was back up 8-2. Berg then answered with his second of the quarter before Law got on the scoresheet to cut the lead back to four with 4:04 to play before the intermission. North Carolina would take a 9-4 advantage into the lockers off a goal from Steve Pontrello. In the first half, Denver was robbed by the post or crossbar six times.
The Pioneers scored three of the four goals in the third quarter, two from Berg and one from Koerber. After being held without a point in the first 30 minutes, Flint recorded two of his three assists in the third frame.
Denver, who entered the game averaging over three penalties per game, picked up just one 30-second infraction on Sunday. North Carolina was called for six penalties, resulting in two man-up goals in five opportunities (one two-man advantage) for the Pioneers.
The Crimson and Gold held a slight edge in shots, 37-35, with UNC freshman Kieran Burke stopping 10 of Denver’s 22 shots on cage.
In its second Final Four under Tierney, Denver will take on Syracuse Saturday at 3 p.m. MT at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa.