Maryland sophomore midfielder Connor Kelly has mainly played a supporting role in the team’s offensive attack during his season and a half in College Park. He scored eight points in 19 games as a freshman a year ago and had tallied five goals and four assists in his first six contests this season.
Saturday’s effort against No. 12 North Carolina may have signaled his arrival as a major scoring threat going forward.
Kelly scored three goals and three assists, playing a part in six of Maryland’s first seven goals, en route to an 11-8 Terps victory over the Tar Heels Saturday at Maryland Stadium in College Park.
Junior attackman Matt Rambo added four goals for the sixth-ranked Terrapins, who are now on a four-game winning streak after starting the season 1-2. For North Carolina, the loss was vastly different from its previous two games, both victories, where the team had outscored its opponents 33-8.
Kelly, who doubled his previous single-game career high of three points, felt his team was well-prepared for a battle with the Tar Heels based on the work they had put in leading up to the game.
“I think we just had great momentum coming in,” he said. “We had a great week of practice, of getting after it, and when we were out there, things opened up. Everybody was just moving the ball, and our pace was great.”
North Carolina sophomore Chris Cloutier scored the game’s opening goal 2:48 into the first quarter, but Kelly’s first of the day tied things up just 50 seconds later. He scored again 39 seconds after that, giving Maryland a lead it would not relinquish.
The Tar Heels kept the game competitive in the first half. They twice managed to get within one goal, but Rambo’s first goal of the game with 16 seconds remaining in the half gave Maryland a 6-4 lead heading into the locker room.
Maryland coach John Tillman was happy with his team’s ability to adjust to North Carolina’s aggressive defense following a bit of a slow start.
“We just got so rushed early, and part of that you give credit to Carolina,” he said. “I thought they did a good job on us early, and it took us a little time to get into rhythm.”
The Terps found that rhythm in the third quarter, where they outshot the Tar Heels 15-5. A sustained possession early on eventually resulted in a goal from junior midfielder Colin Heacock with 9:16 left in the period. Kelly’s assist on the goal gave him his sixth and final point of the day.
North Carolina stayed within striking distance before another late Rambo goal, this one with 18 seconds to go in the quarter, pushed Maryland’s lead to 9-6. After scoring twice more in the fourth and effectively locking up the win, North Carolina added a pair in the final 1:05 to cap the scoring.
Aside from Kelly and Rambo, the Terps also received contributions from midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allen, who had only one assist but made several key plays to jumpstart the offense. The junior attributed his intense style of play to past Maryland standouts.
“I think it comes from back in my freshman year, a lot of the older guys kind of pushed me towards that,” Davis-Allen said. “That’s something that’s been a mainstay at this place.”
As for Kelly’s career day, Tillman praised the sophomore’s strong work ethic in helping the team during its recent hot streak.
“I’m really happy for him because he’s putting in the time, and it’s great for the other younger players to see that,” he said, adding, “He’s probably the last guy to take credit for (the win). He’ll probably give it to somebody else.”
Kelly displayed Tillman’s description of his selfless attitude, downplaying his accomplishments in the game while crediting his teammates.
“I’m just trying to do my part,” he said. “I know we have a lot of talent on this team. Everybody can do anything on any given day.”