CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – When the sixth-ranked Duke Blue Devils face off against the fourth-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels at Fetzer Field on Sunday, it will be another critical grudge match in the two schools’ lacrosse histories.
Yes, they want to beat one another, but with both coming off losses last week, they will particularly seek to make a statement at the expense of the other during their 71st all-time meeting.
Following a tough 10-8 loss to Maryland, a win for the Tar Heels over the defending national champions will keep them in consideration for contending for that title as part of a handful of teams who can still make that case.
For the Blue Devils, a demoralizing 19-7 loss to Syracuse will provide more than enough motivation to want and need to beat North Carolina.
Even more so, a bounce-back win after losing to the Orange, will show that the trip to the Carrier Dome was an aberration in a maturing team’s progress, and that they are should remain in the conversation to three-peat.
The all-time series is led by the Tar Heels holding a 39-31 margin.
The Blue Devils have won 17 of the last 19 meetings, with their only losses coming in 2010 when UNC won a 13-7 regular-season meeting at Koskinen Stadium, and more recently in the 2013 ACC Tournament semifinals when the Tar Heels won 18-17 at Kenan Stadium.
North Carolina will be looking for its first win over Duke at Fetzer Field since a 14-9 victory back on Mar. 19, 2003.
Success factors and difference makers
Faceoffs – Kelly vs Rowe
Possession time and goal-scoring conversion will be critical for both teams.
In both team’s losses, it was evident that the kryptonite to their success was defending the ball over prolonged periods of time.
Winning faceoffs will determine much of how this game plays out, so the battle between Duke’s Jack Rowe and North Carolina’s Stephen Kelly will be an intriguing one.
Rowe comes into the game ranked 18th nationally (126-90) with a 58-percent success rate at the faceoff X, while Kelly sits 44th in the country (112-114) with a neutral 50-percent possession margin.
Big Guns – Bitter/Sankey versus Jones/Class
On offense, this game will be determined by the success of North Carolina’s attack or Duke’s midfield offense.
The Tar Heels’ attack tandem of Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey has put the most consistent and productive performances in the country.
They will both end up on the score sheet.
Bitter’s 51-game point scoring streak is the second longest active streak in NCAA Division I while Sankey’s 46-game point streak is tied for the third longest.
Bitter leads all active Tar Heels with 19 career hat tricks, one more than Sankey.
UNC’s attack unit has combined for 73 goals, 66 assists and 139 points in 10 games this season.
A year ago, the starting attack led by Bitter and Sankey, had 81 goals, 50 assists and 131 points in 15 games.
Duke midfielders Myles Jones and Deemer Class have to step up immediately in order to catch the Tar Heels defense off guard.
Jones has a hat trick in seven of nine games played, and has posted at least five points in six of those nine games.
Along with Jones’ team-leading 46 points (24 goals, 22 assists), Class’ 35 points (29 goals, 6 assists), and more specifically his ability to score between 8-15 yards out will be critical to Duke’s success.
Young Guns – Goldstock versus Guterding
Capping off the offensive performances for both teams will be the finishing factor coming from Duke freshman attackman Justin Guterding and North Carolina sophomore attack Luke Goldstock.
Both have had multiple three-plus goal games this season and currently rank in the national top 10 in goal scoring.
Guterding currently sits one spot ahead of Goldstock in NCAA goal-scoring average – and barely at that.
Guterding’s 3.22 goals-per-game rate rests negligibly ahead of Goldstock’s 3.20 scoring average.
If the Bitter/Sankey versus Jones/Class scoring game is a wash, look to one of these two to be the difference makers.
Defense – Chemistry versus strength and discipline
With a more experienced defensive unit, the Tar Heels hold the advantage to defend better over a prolonged period.
However, against ranked teams, North Carolina’s defensive corps has been shown to lapse.
The Blue Devils defense is young and still evolving, but tough and aggressive regardless.
Flashes of exceptional play have been evidenced in games leading up to this one, so how Duke’s long poles react to extended Tar Heels possession times will play a factor in winning or losing this one.
Goaltending – Burke versus Aaron
In last year’s 9-8 overtime thriller, both goalkeepers – North Carolina’s Kieran Burke and Duke’s Luke Aaron – finished with 15 saves apiece.
Aaron posted five saves in the fourth quarter and eventually earned the win.
Whoever makes minimal positional errors, as both have been prone to make, will determine which team wins.
Duke attackman Case Matheis and North Carolina midfielder Peyton Klawinski will be under-the-radar x-factors and difference makers.
While Matheis has had a slow start due to injury, his goal-scoring ability in critical games has shown that he is capable of influencing the result of a game in Duke’s favor.
Matheis comes into the game with 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in six games played.
As a scout team player in 2014, Klawinski played in four games, scoring three goals for the Tar Heels.
Elevated to the first midfield in 2015, the sophomore has responded with 14 goals and three assists in 10 games.