North Carolina's freshmen delivered the moment.
Shortly after a remarkable, game-saving stop by Tar Heels goalie Megan Ward, Sammy Jo Tracy scored the winning goal in transition 31 seconds into the sudden-death session, ending the longest game in championship history.
The referees conferred for a few moments before signaling a goal, and the Carolina bench rushed out to swarm Tracy.
"It literally feels all like a dream," Tracy said. "To see that ball go in the back of the net is everything I've dreamed about since my dad put a stick in my hands."
Her father, who played for Maryland, may not have envisioned it quite that way.
Maryland (22-1) had beaten North Carolina, 14-13, in the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season, and then again, 12-8, in the league title game last month.
But the Tar Heels (18-3) captured the one that mattered most.
"I think this will go down as one of the more exciting national championship games in our sport," Maryland coach Cathy Reese said.
North Carolina jumped out to a fast start.
Freshman Aly Messinger scored 29 seconds into the game, and the Tar Heels opened a 3-0 lead.
Unlike in the semifinal, when Tewaaraton Award nominee Kara Cannizzaro didn't get untracked until the second half, she scored two of her four goals in the first to give North Carolina a 9-6 edge.
The Terrapins had never trailed at the break, had never been behind by three goals, and they had never surrendered nine goals in a half.
The second half began much differently.
Maryland scored four times in the first 6 minutes, 33 seconds of the second to take its first lead, 10-9.
Cannizzaro scored twice late to give North Carolina a 12-11 lead, but Alex Aust scored the tying goal with 3:51 left.
The Terrapins, who have won a record 10 titles, were last champions in 2010. They made at least the quarterfinals in every year since 2007, and were in the final four every year since 2009.
North Carolina, which has also been knocking on the door, won its first championship. The Tar Heels were making their second title-game appearance. The other was in 2009.
"This is what our team is about, this is what puts our program over the hump," Strath Haven graduate Emily Garrity said. "This is what shows that Carolina does win and will win."
Contact Tim McManus at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @ByTimMcManus.