Denver Overcomes Slow Start to Win OT Thriller at UNC

Photo Credit: UNC Men’s Lacrosse

Just over a minute into overtime, star attackman Connor Cannizzaro took a feed from Jack Bobzien and rifled a shot bottom left past North Carolina goalie, Brian Balkam to give the No. 2 University of Denver Pioneers a 13-12 victory over the No. 10 North Carolina Tar Heels.

Despite the thrilling finish, it took most of the first half for the Pioneers to remember that they were the No. 2 team in the country. After Cannizzaro opened the scoring with a goal after a great move from behind the UNC net, the Tar Heels took control of the game and scored the next three goals.

Denver was able to tie it up at 3 before the end of the opening quarter thanks to a couple of great scoring efforts by Zach Miller and and Bobzien, but the momentum was short-lived. Early in the second quarter, after Pioneer goalie Alex Ready was screened on a shot, UNC retook the lead, 4-3. Two goals later, the Pioneers were down 6-3 and were reeling.

Late in the helf, Brendan Bomberry was able to score off of a highlight reel pass from Tyler Pace, but the Tar Heels held a 6-4 lead heading into halftime.

Throughout much of the first half, the problems that plagued the Pioneers last weekend against Sacred Heart and Dartmouth came back to haunt them. DU was frequently unable to clear and they had trouble holding onto the ball in the attacking end. While those problems didn’t hurt them against Sacred Heart and Dartmouth, they were intensified against a top 10 team like North Carolina.

Something head coach Bill Tierney said in the locker room during halftime must have clicked because Denver looked like a different team for much of the second half.

Early in the third quarter, Pace took a pass from Miller and sniped a shot past Balkam off the cross bar to pull the Pioneers back within 1 goal at 6-5.

After a couple of Pioneer turnovers on their ensuing possession, North Carolina was able to capitalize and extend the lead back to two at 7-5. The score read that North Carolina was ahead, but didn’t seem like UNC would maintain the lead for long.

By the end of the third quarter, the Pioneers had turned the tables on the Tar Heels and took a 9-8 lead into the fourth quarter. By the time the buzzer ended the third quarter, Bobzien had scored another two goals while Miller and Pace each added a tally.

It was hard to believe, but the back and forth affair was just getting started. Cannizzaro opened the scoring again in the fourth quarter after a great feed from Bobzien to double the lead, 10-8. Then, after an important, clutch save from goalie Alex Ready, Miller scored his third goal of the game to extend the Pioneers’ lead to three at 11-8.

It certainly seemed like the Pioneers had complete control of this game, but North Carolina wasn’t done yet. With 5:32 left, UNC started an impressive 4 goal run to recapture the lead. The Tar Heels’ 10th goal was a complete fluke as Ready stopped 99% of the shot, but it just bounced by him. With just 1:06 left, North Carolina capped its run with a great shot from Ready’s right.

On the ensuing faceoff, Trevor Baptiste’s star power came through with a clutch win at the X. Denver took a decent shot or two before Bill Tierney decided to call a timeout with just 26.7 seconds left.

Coming out of the timeout, the play that offensive coordinator Matt Brown drew up worked to perfection as Miller took an Alex French feed to beat Balkam down low and tie the game at 12 with just 9.8 seconds left.

After Baptiste won the ensuing faceoff, he found Cannizzaro with a long pass down the middle. Cannizzaro quick turned and got a highlight reel caliber shot off, but somehow Balkam made the save to preserve the tie and send the game to overtime.

Baptiste won his 21st faceoff of the game to open overtime and, after a Denver finally cleared, Tierney called a timeout 42 seconds into the extra frame. Brown, Denver’s offensive mastermind, again drew up a great play.

When the Pioneers restarted play, Cannizzaro bounced a shot over the cage where Denver recovered the ball. The ball was back in Bobzien’s stick down low. He looked up, found Cannizzaro on the outside. Denver’s star attackman then rocketed a shot post Balkam bottom left and Denver’s bench poured onto the field to begin celebtrating.

13-12 Final.

It was good for the Pioneers to see that even when they don’t put forth their best effort, they can stay with and beat a top 10 team. That being said, Denver is going to have to play much better if they are going to go to South Bend and steal a victory from rival No. 1 Notre Dame with revenge on their minds. But for now, the Pioneers can celebrate getting some revenge of their own for their loss at the hands of the Tar Heels last year.


Zach Miller extended his point streak to 42 straight games; Cannizzaro extended his goal streak to 30 games; Cannizzaro scored the first and last goals of the game; Only five different Pioneers scored goals, but three of them (Miller, Cannizzaro, Bobzien) had hat tricks; Tyler Pace had his second straight 5 point game (2G, 3A); Baptiste went 21-for-28 at the X for a .750 Faceoff %; Denver won the GB battle, 35-21; The Pios were only 8-12 (.667) on clears while UNC was 7-11 (.636); Both teams were 50% on their man-up opportunities, Denver 2-for-4, UNC 1-for-2; The Pios outshot the Heels 34-30.

What’s Next

Sunday, March 13
at Notre Dame
3:30 PM MT
South Bend, IN
Watch: ESPNU (Watch Party location to be announced)
Listen: 104.3 FM or 1600 AM

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