Air Force vs. North Carolina
February 25, 2006
The Game Story:
DENVER, COLO. - The No. 13-ranked North Carolina men's lacrosse team relied on its defense Saturday afternoon to beat the Air Force Academy 8-6 in the opening game of the 2006 Pioneer Face-Off Classic at the University of Denver's Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. With the win, Carolina opened its season with two wins for the first time since the 2002 season when the Tar Heels started 6-0.

The third quarter was the key part of the game for Carolina as the Tar Heels rallied from a 3-2 halftime deficit to outscore the Falcons 6-0 in the period. Air Force then fought back to outscore North Carolina 3-0 in the fourth quarter before the UNC defense made several crucial stops and caused several turnovers late in the game to preserve the win.

For the second straight game freshman attackman Michael Burns was UNC's offensive leader as the Garden City, N.Y., native, last week's Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Week, had three goals. Senior All-America candidate Ryan Blair of Auburn, N.Y., had a goal and two assists for the Tar Heels. Air Force was led offensively by Griffin Nevitt who had two goals while Max Miller had a goal and two assists for the Falcons.

The game was very reminiscent of the March 11, 2004 game the two teams played in Colorado Springs, Colo. when UNC had to rally from a two-goal deficit midway in the fourth quarter to post a 10-9 victory over the Academy.

Air Force led at the half 3-2 despite being outshot by the Tar Heels 25-7 in the opening 30 minutes of play. The Falcons' goalkeeper Justin Pavoni made nine of his 14 saves in the first half to keep the Tar Heels at bay.

For the game UNC outshot the Falcons 43-19 and the Tar Heels won the ground ball battle 37-27. Air Force led in face-offs 10-8 and in saves 14-6.

After halftime, however, Carolina attacked the goal aggressively in the the third quarter, outshooting the Falcons 16-1 in the period and outscoring USAF 6-0.

Air Force (0-2) did not go away however as the Falcons outshot the Heels 11-2 in the final period and outscored Carolina 3-0. The Falcons capitalized on two of the three extra-man opportunities they had in the final period to get back into the game. The Academy also won all four face-offs in the final period to help them keep possession for much of the final period.

UNC got on the board first as Ryan Blair scored an unassisted goal 4:44 into the opening period. Air Force answered that goal 1:43 before the end of the opening stanza when Justin Kuchta fed Peter Krasco for the tying goal.

UNC retook the lead on a goal by Michael Burns with an assist by Ryan Blair with 6:38 left before halftime. But back-to-back goals by Griffin Nevitt staked the Falcons to a 3-2 halftime lead.

North Carolina came out as a different team in the third quarter as Brian Connors and Kyle Henderson scored on back-to-back outside bounce shots to give the Heels the lead for good at 4-3 with 10:29 left in the period. Blair had the assist on Connors' goal, which was the first of his career for the Manhasset, N.Y. sophomore midfielder. Nick Tintle assisted on Henderson's goal.

Just 24 seconds following Henderson's goal, UNC All-America defenseman Stephen McElduff claimed a ground ball deep in the Tar Heel zone and then went coast-to-coast to score past Pavoni. The goal was the second of the defenseman's career. He also scored against Johns Hopkins in 2004.

The Tar Heels scored three more goals in the third period, all off assists. Sophomore middie Ryan Walterhoefer scored on a hard oustide shot off an assist by senior midfielder Andrew McElduff with 7:54 left in the quarter. Then Michael Burns had successive goals 22 seconds apart to make the score 8-3 with 4:16 left in the period. Freshman midfielder Bobby McAuley and senior attackman Sean Link had the assists on the two goals by Burns.

Air Force became energized by an extra-man goal by Conrad Lochocki with 13:48 left in the game. Michael Weber then scored for Air Force 1:56 later and the Falcons were right back in the match and seizing the momentum. Air Force got another extra-man opportunity and Max Miller scored from Will Meister with 5:45 to play to end the scoring in the game.

Saturday's two-goal win for UNC was its first in a game decided by less than four goals since UNC beat Virginia 11-9 on April 10, 2004 at Fetzer Field.

UNC will have little time to rest as Carolina must play No. 20 Denver (1-1) Sunday at 1:30 p.m. MST in the Pioneer Face-Off Classic's final game.