CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- You have to walk before you can run if you want to compete against the University of North Carolina in women's soccer.
The problem, of course, is that the sport's flagship program -- winner of 20 NCAA championships in a sport that has awarded just 28 of them -- tends to leave anyone who can't keep up with its trademark speed and pressure choking on its proverbial dust.
"It's just go, go, go; you cannot rest a second," Boston College senior defender Hannah Cerrone said. "They're the kind of team where, if you get caught, you will regret it. They will make you regret it, make you pay for it. You've got to focus for every single second of the game."
Thursday night at Fetzer Field, No. 4 Boston College matched the nation's No. 1 team stride for stride and walked away with the biggest win in program history -- the Eagles' first victory in 12 tries (0-11-0) against North Carolina.
Fresh off setting up her team's first goal and scoring the winner in the 3-2 decision, sophomore forward Victoria DiMartino put it more succinctly but summed up the night better than any poet could.
"We worked our asses off," DiMartino offered with no small measure of pride.
There wasn't much alternative. North Carolina lost the bulk of the starting lineup from the team that won the NCAA title last season, but entering the ACC opener for both teams Thursday, the new version had more than earned its top ranking. The Tar Heels scored 32 goals in their first nine games, shutting out Top 10 teams in Texas A&M and Florida, with a 2-2 tie against No. 2 Stanford the only blemish on an otherwise perfect record.
It took less than a minute for the Tar Heels to show what Boston College was up against. North Carolina midfielder Amber Brooks looped a long, high ball down the left side, and in the blink of an eye, forward Courtney Jones was behind Boston College's back line with nothing but green between her and goal. But rather than test goalkeeper Jillian Mastroianni at the near post, Jones cut back and waited for an open passing lane that never materialized. Crisis averted.
North Carolina continued to control possession for much of the opening 10 minutes, but Boston College succeeded where so many traditionally fail (even this young North Carolina team has scored seven goals in the opening 10 minutes of matches) and withstood the early onslaught.
"If they get that first opportunity, I think their whole level of confidence is like they'll own the match -- they'll just totally own the match," Boston College coach Alison Foley said of the traditional Carolina mentality. "I think it was good. You never want Carolina to score on you early, you don't want to be behind the eight ball against a team like UNC."
Boston College withstood another potential uppercut when Mastroianni guessed correctly in diving to her left on Meghan Klingenberg's penalty kick after a dubious foul against Boston College in the 22nd minute. As was the case in a 1-1 draw against Stanford to open the season, Mastroianni came up big.
Clean sheets look nice on the stat sheet for keepers, but few have done more in shutouts than Mastroianni did with eight saves and assertive distribution, bailing out a back line in the few instances it inevitably succumbed to Carolina's pressure.
"We, by far, have the best keeper in the country, no doubt." DiMartino said. "Having her play in net and saving that PK, making great saves, is just unreal. She keeps us in the game, and hearing her voice and seeing her make those saves just encourages us more to go to goal."
Gradually the play evened out, and when North Carolina did get on the scoreboard, Boston College wasted no time answering. Just 63 seconds after Crystal Dunn gave the Tar Heels a 1-0 lead in the 59th minute, DiMartino floated a perfectly weighted cross to the far post, where Kristie Mewis headed it home.
The wait for the second tying goal was a not-quite-interminable 6 minutes, when defender Alaina Beyar seized the open space the Tar Heels failed to deny her and ripped a shot from 20 yards that caromed off one post and into the netting on the opposite side of the goal in the 70th minute.
Boston College (8-0-1) essentially played for the draw against Stanford after tying that game midway through the second half, but there was no such suggestion this night. Continuing to press forward against an increasingly discombobulated defense, Mewis pushed the Tar Heels back with a push on the left in the 76th minute and then fed the ball back to DiMartino at the top of the 18-yard box. From there, DiMartino drove a low shot that deflected off a North Carolina defender preoccupied with Boston College's Brooke Knowlton in front of goal.
It's only fitting that Mewis and DiMartino combined for the first and last goals in the program's first win against the Tar Heels (8-1-1). Not only do the two sophomores with extensive international experience for United States youth national teams represent the elite talent that Foley is now able to attract to Boston College, but they're the closest of friends who have played together since both were about 12 or 13 years old.
"We're like sisters on the field," DiMartino said. "I know exactly where she's going to be. We don't even need to look for each other -- she knows I'm there, I know she's there. It's great when we combine and work together. We have such a bond that no one understands, and we work so well together."
Boston College won with a complete effort. It won because DiMartino, Mewis and Mastroianni may be among the 15 or 20 best players in the nation. It won because its back line, particularly the unsung combination of Beyar and Alyssa Pember on the left side, has now hung for 180 minutes with the best Stanford and North Carolina had to offer. It won with role players such as Natalie Crutchfield, the speed merchant off the bench who changed the tempo when she came on as a first-half substitute.
It won because, at least on this night, it was a better than No. 1.
A native of the South Shore, Foley has instilled a blue-collar mentality in a team that now finds itself with white-collar talent. And while Thursday's win won't mean anything come November -- or Sunday at NC State, for that matter -- it meant a lot on this night.
"I think we have a mentality to defend, I think we have a mentality to scrap, and no one is too good -- they understand they have to go both ways," Foley said. "But we have some special players that can pull off stuff like those girls did tonight."
Graham Hays covers women's soccer, basketball and softball for ESPN.com.