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No. 17 Syracuse men's lacrosse shocks No. 11 North Carolina on a last-second goal by Michael Leo

Syracuse celebrates its first win over North Carolina since 2019.
Syracuse celebrates its first win over North Carolina since 2019.

No. 17 Syracuse men’s lacrosse (8-5, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) locked down their first ACC win of the season against No. 11 North Carolina (7-5, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) on Saturday afternoon 15-14.

The victory is SU's second in a row over a ranked opponent after losing 11 in a row, and it is also their first ACC victory after losing seven in a row the previous two seasons.

The back-and-forth tilt between the Orange and Tar Heels featured eight ties and six lead changes.

UNC struck early, but attackmen Owen Hiltz buried his first of the day with 12:17 remaining in the first to tie the game.

The Tar Heels netted four unanswered to take a 6-3 lead with six minutes to go in the quarter, but the Orange responded with another pair of goals to make it a one-goal game late in the second quarter. Graduate student Cole Kirst scored first, followed by midfielder Jackson Birtwistle's man-up goal off a Spallina feed.

Carolina led by two at the half, 7-5. Early on, the Orange struggled on offense, connecting on only five of thirteen shots, while the Tar Heels combined for 30 shots in the opening 30 minutes. Senior Will Mark made seven saves for the 'Cuse in the first half.

SU exploded out of the break, scoring four of the first five goals in the third quarter to reclaim a 9-8 lead. Kirst, Birtwistle, and midfielder Michael Leo all scored in an instant before Kirst scored his third goal of the game on the Carolina goal.

Owen Hiltz (77, Blue) fires a shot on goal from a tough angle.
Owen Hiltz (77, Blue) fires a shot on goal from a tough angle.

"They came out and started well in the second half and got on a little run," head coach Gary Gait said. "I thought they stuck together like a team in the second half and made the plays they needed."

To begin the second half, the Tar Heels also stuck together. UNC scored three goals in a row to grab a two-goal, 11-9 lead before captain Griffin Cook trimmed the Heels' lead to one with 25 seconds left in the third.

Back-to-back goals from freshman Alex Simmons on the man-up with a Hiltz feed opened the fourth for the Orange, followed by attackmen Joey Spallina’s first of the afternoon.

Bryant transfer Logan McGovern struck again to even the game at 12-12 before another Spallina tally gave the Orange a 13-12 lead. Redshirt junior Brandon Aviles capitalized on a fitting opportunity, scooping a loose ball on the next faceoff and driving into the heart of UNC's defense for a 14-12 lead.

The Tar Heels tied the game for the final time with back-to-back goals with 2:43 to play.

With less than 20 seconds remaining, Leo drove from the wing, sliding beneath his defender, snaking through the crease, and burying the game-winning goal with just 12 ticks on the clock to clinch the second straight ranked victory for the Orange.

“I was just taking what the defense gave me,” Leo said. “Our coaches do a great job of letting us read and react to each other, so that’s just what I did.” Leo finished with two goals on the day, including the most important one.

The No. 17 Orange continue their road trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains next Saturday for another ranked opponent.

Syracuse faces No. 2 Virginia at Klockner Stadium in the lone regular-season meeting between the Orange and the Cavaliers this spring. Gametime is at 2 p.m. WAER's coverage begins at 1:30 p.m. with McClurg Team Countdown to Faceoff.

Andrew Della Piana is an undergraduate student studying Broadcast and Digital Journalism at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, expected to graduate in May of 2026. As a field researcher, he helps cover community meetings and events for WAER. Andrew aspires to be a play-by-play broadcaster at a major sports network and spent the last 2 years calling games for the UMass Lowell River Hawks. You can follow him on Twitter @Dellie_5.