By: Justin Lafleur
If there’s one word to describe the 2013 NCAA men’s lacrosse season, it’s unpredictability. That was certainly on display this weekend at Lincoln Financial Field. Coming into the weekend, a strong argument could be made that Cornell and Denver were the favorites to advance to Monday’s Championship Game, but in the end, it was Duke and Syracuse that prevailed. Then instead of the #1 seed Orange claiming the National Title, it was #7 Duke, the same Blue Devils’ team which started the season 2-4, erased a 5-0 deficit for a convincing 16-10 victory.
“Nobody scripts being down 4-0 or 5-0, and inside I think we were all freaking out. But I think Jake Tripucka’s first goal allowed everybody to relax a little bit,” said Duke head coach John Danowski whose Blue Devils have made seven straight Final Fours. “Having Brendan Fowler at the face-off X certainly doesn’t hurt anybody’s confidence when he trots out there. At halftime, we basically said that we need to play Duke Lacrosse over the next 30 minutes.”
Like it had on Saturday, Duke struggled from the onset. This time, the Blue Devils trailed 5-0 and 6-1 in the second quarter before the offensive surge began. They scored the final four goals of the first half to pull within one (6-5) after 30 minutes of play.
“I think the big stage, the big event got to us a little bit,” said Danowski. “I think guys were a little tight, a little nervous. But at halftime, getting back to 6-5 helped everybody. I think we were settled down at halftime, and then just continued to play the game.”
Continue to play they did, as they extended their run to 12-1, taking a 13-7 after a Tripucka goal with 10:47 left in the fourth quarter. Syracuse Tewaaraton Award Finalist JoJo Marasco scored twice in the span of 35 seconds to pull within four (13-9) but Duke responded as champions do, with the next three goals to erase any doubt. The Blue Devils won their second National Title and first since 2010.
“We were up six goals and I just had to focus in until the buzzer,” said Fowler, who won 12 straight faceoffs at one points and was named the Tournament MVP. “I think when they got that penalty at the end and we were man up with a few seconds left, I kind of let it sink in then, but until then, we were just trying to stay focused and finish the game out.”
Flash back to Saturday. The Big Red were coming off two straight dominant wins over Maryland (16-8) and Ohio State (16-6) while the Blue Devils had posted slim victories over Loyola and Notre Dame by identical 12-11 finals. Meanwhile, Denver had beaten Albany (19-14) and red-hot North Carolina (12-11) while Syracuse started slowly against Bryant before earning a last-second 7-6 win over Yale.
With all that said, one thing was clear. Saturday’s Final Four teams were in Philadelphia for a reason. They earned it and the games would be decided on the field.
A theme from the season and especially this postseason, continued over the weekend. It’s not over ‘til it’s over. Earlier in these playoffs, Denver came from 6-0 down to stun North Carolina while Yale turned a 4-0 deficit into a 6-4 lead against Syracuse. Flash back to the ACC Tournament when Duke came back from down nine to pull even with UNC before the Tar Heels prevailed.
On Saturday, it was Cornell trailing Duke 14-6 late in the third quarter, but the Big Red stormed back with six straight goals and eight of the next nine to pull within 15-14 with 53 seconds left in regulation. Following a timeout, Duke’s Jordan Wolf outran the double team and found the open net for the 16-14 victory.
“Playing with a 14 6 lead is not easy,” said Danowski following Saturday’s win. “It sounds like it might be, but it’s not, and certainly the Cornell kids really played hard, really revved it up. Our guys withstood the hits and made some plays at the end. We’re grateful that we could spend another two days together, which is really what this team is about.”
In the midst of the game, Cornell’s Rob Pannell became the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer, posting seven points (five goals, two assists) to pass Duke’s Matt Danowski (who ironically, was on the other sideline as a Blue Devils’ coach) and finish his storied career with 354 points.
“There’s only positive emotions I’m feeling right now, how proud I am of the 15 other seniors besides myself and the great job they did leading this team and how we battled back in the fourth quarter,” said Pannell. “I think you saw what Cornell Lacrosse was all about there, playing until the final whistle, never giving up. I think we did a great job of that from our seniors on down, and the scoring record is what it is. I’d give up everything I’ve achieved individually to get a chance to play [for a National Championship] on Monday.”
Denver appeared to be in control in the second game, leading 6-2 early in the third quarter and 8-6 with less than three minutes remaining, but much like they did a week prior vs. Yale, the Syracuse Orange scored the game’s final three goals for the victory. Last week, the goals came in the final 3:04 while this time, it came in the last 2:35. Dylan Donahue scored the winner against the Bulldogs with 13 seconds remaining while this time, Derek Maltz converted a rebound with 20 seconds on the clock. Perhaps the only consistent or predictable thing that happened Saturday was Syracuse’s late-game heroics.
“We really don’t enjoy these one goal games,” said Marasco. “Going into the fourth quarter, we had some close chances. Goalie [Jamie Faus] made one unbelievable save on Derek and then it goes the other way and they score. Going to the fourth quarter, we just knew all we needed was the ball.
“Our faceoff guy Cal [Paduda] came up big and there was some big wing play too, from Matt Harris and Peter McCartney,” Marasco continued. “We’ve been so relaxed because we’ve been playing these games so many times that it just felt like another game. Going out on offense even at the end, we tell ourselves we’re not going to overtime, let’s send this one home early, and just believing in each other. That’s been the key to our team all year.”
Another trend over the weekend was strong goaltending play. Duke’s Kyle Turri made a career-high 16 saves Saturday while Denver’s Ryan LaPlante stopped 13-of-15 sent his way in the first half of game two. Syracuse’s Dominic Lamolinara was steady, making eight stops to give the Orange a chance, and Cornell’s A.J. Fiore wasn’t bad by any means, making 10 saves with seven coming in the first half.
In the end, Duke took home the hardware from a highly unpredictable season. Who could have seen the championship game matchup in February, when the Blue Devils started the season 2-4 while Syracuse lost Nicky Galasso and began the year with a home loss to Albany? Flash forward to today and they wrapped up an incredible college lacrosse season as the last two teams standing. If this was any indication of the future of college lacrosse, we’re in for a treat.