April 24, 2016

Here’s how one afternoon can turn the men’s college lacrosse world on its head:

–As of noon Saturday, North Carolina’s name was absent from the two bracketology versions published Wednesday by Inside Lacrosse and Lacrosse magazine web sites.

Lacrosse magazine had the Tar Heels as one of four teams “just on the outside” of the projected 2016 NCAA bracket.

By mid-afternoon Carolina had knocked off the consensus number one-rated team with a huge final-period comeback, claimed a share of the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and earned the number-one seed for next week’s ACC Championship in Kennesaw, Georgia.

–As of noon Saturday, Notre Dame’s consistently solid defense had played a big role in that consensus top ranking, with the overall Irish scoring defense rating second in the country (6.6 goals permitted per game) and junior goaltender Shane Doss standing first in goals-against average.

By halftime versus the Heels, the Irish already had allowed eight scores, more than its full-game average.

Then, after seemingly having a victory in sight with a 15-10 lead with 10 minutes to go, Carolina stormed back with seven consecutive goals in just more than seven minutes.

By mid-afternoon North Carolina had posted a 17-15 victory. Notre Dame scored its second-highest goal total of 2016 but allowed eight more than in any of its first 10 outings this spring. Carolina knocked off a top-rated opponent for the fifth straight season.

What did all that mean? The Tar Heels are now the top ACC seed for the league’s postseason tournament and will play Syracuse, the number-four seed, in the semifinals Friday night. Yet, just a week ago, it was the Orange handing North Carolina a 13-7 defeat in limiting the Heels to their second-lowest scoring output of the year.

Meanwhile, the Irish share the ACC regular-season top spot with North Carolina. It did not feel that way Saturday in the Irish postgame locker room scene.

Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan has never suggested his 2016 Irish team merits inclusion in anyone’s hall of fame.

Still, his squad had carved out enough of a 10-game identity–even with whatever warts existed–to allow the Irish to come into Saturday’s matchup against Carolina with a chance to finish unbeaten in ACC regular-season play for a second straight year.

And for 50 minutes Saturday in Chapel Hill, it looked as if the Irish would pull it off. Notre Dame had not been perfect. Yet the Irish offense had been productive enough to knock rookie Carolina goaltender Colin Reder (making his first start) out of the contest after he gave up a fourth third-period score (the second of two by Irish rookie Ryder Garnsey) that allowed Notre Dame a three-goal advantage.

But once Sergio Perkovic’s fourth goal (his third four-goal effort in 2016) at the 10:01 mark provided that five-goal margin, the Tar Heels-with their NCAA hopes potentially withering in the 75-degree sunshine at Kenan Stadium-flipped the table in a big way.

The Irish still had a three-goal lead after Mikey Wynne (he had three goals) hit the post at 6:23, Perkovic did the same at 6:07 and the clock dropped below the five-minute mark. But the home team dominated the face-off circle late (winning seven of 10 in the last period), Notre Dame’s final shot attempt came at 5:11 and the Irish realistically never saw the ball again.

Through three periods, North Carolina had accounted for 15 shots on goal. In the final period alone, the Tar Heels stormed the net with 14 (compared to three by the Irish).

Corrigan didn’t like the mental errors his squad committed and he didn’t like the seven minutes in penalties his team accrued. His Irish began the day as the least penalized team in the ACC and then rolled up five more penalty minutes than in their last three games combined.

Three weeks ago, Notre Dame spoiled Syracuse’s 100th season of lacrosse celebration with its impressive road win. Saturday, with Carolina honoring its four national championship teams, the Irish almost crashed the party again until those final moments did them in.

With a Friday night rematch against Duke looming in an ACC Championship semifinal, the Irish staff will spend the week ensuring Saturday’s late-game disappointment represents merely a blip as opposed to a trend.

“It’s as simple as this, fellas, we didn’t make the plays down the stretch that we had to make,” Corrigan told his team after the game.

“Most of the time we play smart and we don’t beat ourselves. We manage games as well as anybody in the country and that’s who we’ve been for 10 games.

“Then today that’s not who we were.

“We know what it is because we haven’t done it for 10 games. We made our mistakes today-let’s move on. That’s not how we have played and it’s not how we’re going to play.”

Carolina coach Joe Breschi suggested postgame that the contest “might have been one of the greatest lacrosse games ever.”

That hardly represented the Irish point of view.

The Notre Dame mission now will be to ensure that sort of disagreement doesn’t happen again.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.