PHILADELPHIA, PA. – North Carolina attackman Chris Cloutier’s bio reads: ‘has a knack for scoring around the cage…has great vision.’
That description on the team website seemed cogent to anyone who witnessed the Tar Heels sophomore release his now well-known sidearm shot that beat Maryland goalkeeper Kyle Bernlohr with 1:39 remaining in overtime to earn the program its fifth overall NCAA title at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday.
In front of 26,749 in attendance, North Carolina (12-6) won its first championship since 1991, a year when then head coach Dave Klarmann’s squad went a perfect 16-0.
Current head coach Joe Breschi was an assistant with that team which coincidentally celebrated its 25-year championship anniversary at halftime.
Though he had experienced winning the title back then, until Monday, Breschi had never led a team into the final game, let alone win it in that position.
That all changed when Cloutier’s fifth goal of the game which went in along with 14 others he’d posted throughout this year’s tournament, an overall total of 19, set a new record as well helped the coach and the Tar Heels end the season celebrating a national championship victory.
A tremendous end to the season for a scout team player from Kitchener, Ontario who saw action in only two games as a freshman last year.
His time to shine had come and he basked in it.
Highlights: GoHeelsTV (YouTube)
Following a nine-goal performance in an 18-13 semifinal win over Loyola on Saturday, Cloutier continued where he left off and along with Luke Goldstock (4 goals) and Brian Cannon (2 goals) helped put North Carolina ahead 4-0 after the first five minutes of play.
Maryland (17-3) worked to pull even as Matt Rambo (3 goals) and Dylan Maltz (2 goals) led the Terrapins charge later in the opening quarter.
North Carolina managed to pull ahead and held a 7-5 lead with 10:59 remaining in the half.
Penalty trouble didn’t work in the Tar Heels’ favor, and along with losses of face-offs and possession sequences allowed Maryland to score three straight and lead 8-7 at halftime.
UNC draw man Stephen Kelly (8-23) experienced uncharacteristic difficulty in battling Terps faceoff specialist Austin Hennigsen (19-30) throughout the game, even with help from Charles Kelly (3-7).
Along with Rambo, Connor Kelly (4 goals) and Henry West (2 goals, 4 assists) helped the Terrapins to control the tempo of the game early into the third quarter.
However, Cloutier then lit Berhlohr up for three straight and gave UNC a 10-9 lead with 5:12 to play in the period.
Tied 10-10 heading into the fourth quarter, it was Maryland that held the lead for half of it until Goldstock and Patrick Kelly, who’s only goal of the game tied the score 13-13 with 3:22 to play.
It marked the sixth tie between the two squads.
What ensued for the remainder of regulation time was the most intriguing, jaw-dropping, and exhilarating sequences of play that made this final an instant classic.
With four seconds remaining, Rambo put a shot on goal that would have ended it.
Tar Heels keeper Brian Balkam made the stop and kept the Tar Heels’ hopes alive with overtime imminent.
However, at the other end, a dead ball foul, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to Goldstock, gave Maryland the extra-man opportunity it could use to win its first title since 1975.
It looked almost certain to end that way as Kelly let a shot go from side-right at the 3:26 mark of the extra period.
However, Balkam’s 13th save of the game denied it as the ball hit his midsection and dropped to allow him to initiate a successful clear.
At the other end, following a timeout, Cloutier eventually got the ball, wound up and tried to end the game from top-left.
An impressive save by Bernlohr kept the ball live just outside his crease.
A scramble for it ensued and eventually the Terps were penalized as a cross-check from Mike McCarney put him in the penalty box, and gave the Tar Heels the man-advantage.
As the UNC man-up worked the ball around, after a number of short passes along the top of the box, the next time Cloutier cradled the ball became the last.
Delaying slightly and using Maryland defenders in front of him as a screen, his left-handed release handcuffed Bernlohr again.
The ball hit the mesh inside the post and the Tar Heels earned the privilege to raise a championship trophy up high once again.
With the win, North Carolina became the first school to win both the men’s and women’s lacrosse NCAA championships in the same year since Princeton did it for the first time in 1994.
The UNC women’s team also beat Maryland, earning a 13-7 decision in Sunday’s national title game played in nearby Chester, Pa.