There was a very strong Maryland fan presence at the game. They were out in force tailgating before the game and they were loud throughout the entire game. They were LOUD. They dwarfed the Denver fans in terms of crowd noise. Maryland fans are as passionate as they come and as a Maryland alum, I was both proud and impressed by both the knowledge of the fans and the energy level they displayed throughout the contest.
The First Quarter
The game's first sequence went completely awry for Maryland. Charlie Raffa jumped the whistle on the face-off, giving possession to Denver. 40 seconds into the game, Wesley Berg scored and the Terps were down 1-0. The Pioneers went up 2-1 and then put up another two goals in the last five minutes to take a 4-1 lead into the second quarter.
Denver's goalie Ryan LaPlante made five of his 13 saves in the first quarter. There were two big reasons for his success. They are both pretty simple to explain. The first is that LaPlante is an excellent goalie. The second is that Maryland's offense looked hesitant and a little confused. They moved the ball but the offense consisted of passing the ball to one player behind the net who would try to wrap around and when he failed, would pass the ball off.
There was a lot of movement but it was wasted motion. There didn't seem to be much purpose behind the running. The first quarter was indicative of how Maryland's offense would play all game long. They never changed up their pace and they never changed up their ineffective, isolation-based offense.
The Second Quarter
Maryland clawed their way back into the game with goals from Matt Rambo and Bryan Cole but there were two plays in the second quarter that really, really hurt the Terps.
The first was Erik Adamson's goal close to midway through the quarter. Adamson had a bad angle on the goal on the left side and he fired off a shot that wasn't particularly good but he caught Kyle Bernlohr napping and scored. That is a save that the best goalie in the nation should make every time and Bernlohr knew it as soon as went by him. He was animated after the goal. He shouted something (and by something, I assume it was an expletive) to himself because he knew that he had just allowed a goal that never should have gone in.
The second was Maryland's last possession of the half where LaPlante saved a shot with about two seconds left that would have made it a 5-4 game going into halftime. Maryland took way too long setting up the play and they were forced to take a poor shot that didn't move LaPlante and didn't force him to change his eye level. LaPlante made it look easy as he made the save and took some wind out of Maryland's sails. Still, a 5-3 halftime deficit wasn't bad considering that Denver seemed to be outplaying Maryland for most of the half.
The Third Quarter
Denver opened it up in the third quarter as they scored three unanswered goals in the first eight minutes. Maryland had chances but failed to execute. The Terps got the first possession of the half but they didn't move LaPlante around and he made a save. Denver went down and scored. Maryland got another possession and they turned the ball over. There was a play that stood out to me midway through the quarter that seemed to be a recurring problem for Maryland.
Maryland's defense forced a turnover in the Maryland third but then the defender hung onto the ball for too long, got cornered by two Pioneer players, and promptly turned the ball over. There were a few moments where Maryland would force a turnover but lost the ball soon afterwards. It was demoralizing to watch in the stands and surely had to be even more so for the players on the team and on the field.
Maryland had chances but they didn't do anything with them. Rambo added a goal with just under six minutes left in the quarter but as a spectator, it didn't change how I felt about this game. I could see that Denver was outplaying Maryland in every single facet of the game and that, barring an absolute and total collapse (which was not going to happen with a team this talented), Denver was going to win easily.
A big moment in this game was Berg's goal with a little over seven minutes left in the quarter. It was from pretty far out and Bernlohr probably saves that shot eight or nine out of ten times. The goal made it 8-3 in favor of the Pioneers and that five goal deficit in actuality felt like a ten goal deficit. At that point, I knew the game was over. From what I had seen, Maryland's offense couldn't score that quickly and there was no way that Baptiste was going to get beaten on the draw enough to stop Denver from possessing the ball, milking the clock, and scoring a goal or two. In my heart I knew the game was over but I had to sit and watch for another 15 minutes as Denver continued to dominate Maryland in the final quarter.
The Fourth Quarter
Maryland won three face-offs in the fourth quarter but also had three turnovers. LaPlante stepped up for Denver and made four saves. Nothing went right for Maryland's offense but what was even worse to me was the complete lack of urgency exhibited by Maryland's offense in the final quarter. They were down four goals and didn't rush to the goal. They took their time when they were running out of it. They were down four goals and the clock was working against them but you wouldn't know it if you watched them on offense in the fourth quarter.
Maryland's defense, especially first team All-American Casey Ikeda, gave Maryland a couple of possessions late but the offense didn't make anything out of them. Denver tacked on a couple of goals that they really didn't need to score. There was less than a minute and half left in the game and Sean Cannizzaro ran towards the goal and put in an easy goal. Berg added his fifth of the game 25 seconds later. The game was over and the Pioneers rubbed a bit of salt in the wound. Those two goals made the game look a lot less competitive but at the same time, they reflected what the real score of the game probably should have been considering how much Denver dominated this game.
I felt bad for Maryland's Jay Carlson as he scored the game's final goal with 32 seconds left. It was a meaningless goal in a game whose outcome had already been decided but it was heart-breaking to watch as he exhibited little emotion after the goal. He just walked towards his teammates and hugged them and patted one or two on the helmet. I watched the fans and alumni and friends come to the realization that Maryland had come up short yet again in the national championship game. There were tears. A lot of them. 40 years had passed and one of the blue blood programs in the sport was still in some kind of bizarre lacrosse purgatory. But this was no divine comedy.
Charlie Raffa held his own against the best face-off man in the country in Trevor Baptiste. Baptiste came in winning almost 70% of his face-offs and he only took 10 of 19 from Charlie, who took nine of 19. The face-off violations were absolute killers though. Charlie had one in each of the first three quarters and if he hadn't made any of them, the Terps might have had more face-off advantages in two of the three quarters and would have been tied in one of them. There is no way to know who would have won the face-off but the violations didn't even allow Maryland to have a chance at them. That was three extra possessions that Maryland desperately needed.
The final score of this game should have been 8-5 and the last two goals made the score look worse. The truth is that Maryland got outplayed for almost the entire game. It is a testament to Bernlohr and the rest of this really great defense that this game wasn't 10-5 until the last minute of the game. The Terps got beat badly in this game even though they didn't get blown out on the scoreboard. It certainly won't jump out at you on the stat sheet but they got outplayed by a wide margin. It looked and felt like they were getting dominated on the field even though they were only down by three or four goals. Make no mistake though, this team played hard. They fought and did not give up. They made the fans proud and head coach John Tillman talked about how proud he was of them in the post-game presser.
I couldn't help throwing in a Dr. Dre reference for this heading but I was encouraged by the resilience of the fans who summoned the power, despite the sadness, to hope and dream of the year to come. "We'll be back!" and "Next year!" they said. Perhaps it was to help deal with emotional enormity of the moment. Perhaps they truly believe that next year will be the year that Maryland finally breaks through. They have an awful lot of talent coming back, including Bernlohr, Rambo, Heacock, Cole, West, Neufeldt and Dunn, just to name a bunch off the top of my head. The Final Four will be back in Philadelphia next year and perhaps the Terps will be able to write a different ending to this all too familiar story.