It was 17 years in the making for Albany Great Danes head coach Scott Marr .
“We played possibly the best athletic event I’ve ever been a part of.”
In front of a wet, energetic, and record setting crowd of 6,472 people at Bob Ford Field at Tom and Mary Casey Stadium that shook the press box four times, the Great Danes defeated reigning national champion North Carolina Tar Heels, 15-12, in Albany’s first home playoff game since 2007. It was the highest paid First Round attendance in NCAA Tournament history since the field expanded in 2003.
“We just beat the defending national champions, they just won the ACC Tournament, that’s as good as it gets,” Marr said. “We knew they were gonna fight, they came out athletically and they stepped it up.”
The America East champions jumped out to a fast start in the first half. After Chris Cloutier scored the game’s opening goal 4:42 into the game, the Great Danes scored six unanswered and eventually took a 7-2 lead into the second quarter. They followed that up with seven more goals to take a 14-3 lead into the locker room.
“Offensively, we were clicking,” said attackman Connor Fields, who finished with a goal and four assists. “We were moving the ball well, we were using each other well. Everything was going well for us.”
That’s when nearly everything started to not go so well for Albany, as North Carolina racked up nine unanswered goals in a span of 19:24 in the second half to cut the lead to two. The Great Danes committed 16 of their 21 total turnovers in the second half alone. Cloutier scored four of his five goals during that run, while senior Luke Goldstock added a pair of goals.
Goldstock, a product of nearby Niskayuna High School, mentioned how his team’s “never say die” attitude goes back to the fall season.
“It goes back to the fall when we’re running around the track,” Goldstock said. “We’re just dying out there. You look to your left and right and by your side and it’s so hard, and it makes you a better person. It makes it so when you’re in a tough position in the spring, it’s nothing compared to how hard the fall is.
“I think that when our backs are against the wall, we look back to that, look back to our work ethic, and the sacrifices that we’ve made, and enable us to play well under pressure.”
After Cloutier’s fifth goal, Marr called one of his timeouts. He decided to left former All-American and current assistant coach Merrick Thomson talk to the players in the huddle.
“Put a smile on your face, take a deep breath, enjoy the moment,” Marr stated. “Just erase the adversity, fight through it, and we’re good.”
And they were good, and Adam Osika scored with 5:49 left to stop the Tar Heel run and shift the momentum back to Albany’s side.
Unlike in previous years, especially back in 2014 against Notre Dame, Albany finished. It was also on the back of their warmup shirts.
“We’ve been in this situation before, and we didn’t finish,” Marr said. “For these guys to get their composure back in that fourth quarter and for Adam to score a huge goal right there, as soon as that ball went in, that crowd jumped out of their seats. It just drew all the energy from that first half back on our side.”
For the Tar Heels, it was hard for head coach Joe Breschi to realize it would be the last game with one of the more important classes in UNC history.
“They brought the family back to Carolina, and I think that’s what’s most important,” Breschi said. “Last year’s run was magical. Those are the things that don’t come around often. Those guys have set records across the board.”
Great Dane midfielder Bennett Drake had five goals for Albany, which tied his career-high, while freshman face-off specialist TD Ierlan went 23-of-30 from the face-off X, including going a perfect 10-for-10 in the first quarter.
“We knew we had to stop them in transition,” Ierlan said. “[Stephen Kelly] is really good if he makes it a 50-50, it’s pretty much like having another midfielder out there. He’s really tough, he’s really scrappy, and I just tried to win it to myself.”
The freshman from Victor, New York went 6-of-21 in his first career game back in February against Syracuse and Ben Williams. But since then, he’s become statistically one of the best face-off men in the entire country, going 72.5% from the X, thanks to help from his fellow FOGOs and coaches.
“I think Connor Russell and Zach Ornstein have done a great job helping develop me as well as coach Thomson and coach Marr,” Ierlan said. “They just push me everyday”
Albany will take on the winner of Sunday’s Bryant and Maryland game next Sunday in Delaware, which has a special place near and dear to Marr’s heart. It’s where he got his first job in 1992 as an assistant under now-retired head coach Bob Shillinglaw, and also where he met his wife.
“My life is nothing without Delaware.”
North Carolina vs. #8 Albany Final Team Stats