Albany-Notre Dame was sports at its finest
By: Justin Lafleur
Google “definition of sports” and here’s the first thing that comes up:
An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.
There are many different kinds of sports, each which require their own unique mix of physical exertion and skill. Sports have a way of bringing together a group of people. It goes far beyond the players on the field.
There is no better example of sports at its finest than Saturday’s classic NCAA Quarterfinal game featuring Albany against Notre Dame. Trailing 12-7 with just over eight minutes remaining, the Irish staged a miraculous turnaround to defeat the Great Danes in front of a sellout crowd of 13,519 at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.
What took place on Saturday goes far beyond the final score. Let’s take a closer look.
After Maryland defeated Bryant 16-8 in the game’s first quarterfinal, the stage was set for Albany’s Thompson trio – brothers Lyle, Miles and cousin Ty. They have become sensations not only in the lacrosse world, but they’re also being noticed by mainstream media. The Thompsons are rewriting the record books with unworldly statistics. They were featured in a New York Times article titled “In a Native American Sport, a Family’s Giant Leap Forward.” They were also on ABC World News with Dianne Sawyer. Entering Saturday’s game, both Lyle and Miles had already eclipsed the NCAA single-season points record. There was a buzz surrounding Albany vs. Notre Dame that went far beyond the normal excitement of a quarterfinal tilt.
Saturday’s game displayed the best that lacrosse (and sports) has to offer. Notre Dame jumped out to a 4-0 lead and looked in control, but lacrosse is a game of runs and Albany responded with the next three goals. In the second half, the Great Danes scored six straight goals to turn a 7-6 deficit into a 12-7 fourth-quarter lead at which point, ESPN announcer Eamon McAnaney said “Albany’s running all the way to Baltimore right now.”
It truly felt like the Great Danes had a stranglehold on the game and had their ticket all but punched to Championship Weekend at M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens. But anyone who knows lacrosse realizes that anything can happen. In a game where you can score then regain possession off the ensuing faceoff, teams can score in bunches. It was evident in the NCAA opening round when Drexel scored three goals in 11 seconds at the end of the first half.
With under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, McAnaney reminded viewers that there was still time, but Notre Dame needed a goal, and quickly. The Irish got just what they needed when Nick Ossello scooped a loose ball and fired a shot past Albany goalie Blaze Riordan. That began an incredible run of four goals in 1:52 which pulled the Irish within 12-11 with 6:19 still remaining.
Albany head coach Scott Marr has admitted this season has felt like a movie. Even writers would have a hard time fathoming what was unfolding before his eyes on Saturday.
Less than 30 seconds after Notre Dame scored its fourth straight goal, the Irish were vying for the tying score. They had three straight golden opportunities, the first two saved by Riordan with the third clinging off a post. It bounced right to Albany’s Ryan Feuerstein who ran the length of the field and scored to temporarily stop Notre Dame’s momentum and give his team an all-important two-goal lead.
The Irish continued to show resiliency, however. Despite losing the ensuing faceoff and turning the ball over, Albany’s offense never got the ball in its stick. Notre Dame’s 10-man ride continued to wreak havoc (the Irish forced eight fourth-quarter turnovers) which led to two more goals and a 13-13 game with 3:02 still remaining.
Albany won the following faceoff and had its chances. With less than 10 seconds left, the Great Danes attacked from behind the goal. Cousin Ty Thompson wound up with a point-blank shot, but Notre Dame goalie Connor Kelly made a tremendous helmet save to preserve the tie and force overtime. You couldn’t have scripted more drama.
As it had all afternoon, Notre Dame continued to dominate faceoffs, winning the opening draw of overtime. An errant pass looked ticketed for the end line, but the Irish made a diving play to keep possession as Matt Kavanagh scooped the groundball. After a timeout, Kavanagh ended the instant classic with a low shot for the 14-13 overtime victory.
If I had to think of one word to describe Saturday’s game, it would be drama. It had all the drama you could ask for in sports. Saturday could be a big step forward for the sport of lacrosse.
It can be hard to convince non-lacrosse fans to love the sport the way lacrosse diehards do, but Saturday’s game could go a long way towards doing just that. I received one response to a tweet on Saturday: “Epic finish. What a game. I’m a fan.” This came from a friend of mine who is a sports, but not lacrosse, fan.
Albany and Notre Dame left everything on the field, so it was a shame to see either team lose. I really feel for the Great Danes to lose in that fashion when they were so close to their first-ever Championship Weekend appearance. The beauty of lacrosse (collegiate or professional) is that there’s never any question about effort or desire. Even in Major League Lacrosse, the players aren’t millionaires, so from top to bottom, they are playing for the love of the sport.
Saturday featured highlight-reel goals that simply made you go, wow. There was a sellout crowd on a beautiful afternoon. Looking back, Saturday was a celebration of lacrosse and a celebration of sports. In what other sport could the America East champion go toe-to-toe with the ACC champ? I bet almost everyone who witnessed that fourth quarter on Saturday was instantly hooked. If you didn’t get a chance to watch, I would encourage you to watch the highlights (although highlights only scratch the surface of watching the drama live).
Comebacks like this have happened before. The first game that comes to mind is in the 2006 NCAA Quarterfinals when UMass (my alma mater) erased a 10-5 deficit with 8:03 remaining to win 11-10 in overtime and advance to Championship Weekend for the first time in program history. The Minutemen scored three goals in 1:34 to pull right back within two, similar to Notre Dame scoring four times in 1:52 to get within one. Both UMass and Notre Dame used dominant faceoff play to stage comebacks for the ages.
Even when a team is firmly in control, the opponent can stage a comeback at any possible moment. Lacrosse is a game of momentum and swings. That’s true of any sport, but I challenge you to come up with any sport that can change so quickly. To be down 12-7 then trailing 12-11 less than two minutes later is like a football team being down 49-21 then scoring three touchdowns in less than two minutes. It can happen, but not nearly as easily (or happen as often) as lacrosse.
In February, Loyola trailed Virginia 12-4 after three quarters, but scored nine straight fourth-quarter goals to take a 13-12 lead. The Cavaliers evened the score at the end of regulation and won in overtime, but that’s just another example. Again, I ask, in how many sports can you be tripled up 75 percent into the game, yet take a lead with 18 seconds remaining (like Loyola did)?
Usually, in one particular game, you get bits and pieces of what makes lacrosse so great. But Saturday’s Albany-Notre Dame classic had it all. It had the nonstop action, the passion and the never-say-die attitude that makes lacrosse the fastest game on two feet.