The annual rivalry matchup between No. 3 Maryland men’s lacrosse and No. 7 Johns Hopkins garnered massive expectations, as is tradition. And the game lived up to every bit of it.
Neither team led by more than one goal until late in the fourth quarter, when the Blue Jays scored at the 3:51 mark. Junior attackman Russell Melendez, who had his way with the Terps all game, shined when the lights were brightest.
Melendez snuck into the heart of Maryland’s defense and scored a crucial goal before he hit the turf.
Now down by two with less than four minutes remaining, the Terps needed perfection.
Senior attackman Daniel Maltz gave Maryland life with 54 seconds remaining, scoring his fourth goal of the game, and then senior Luke Wierman won perhaps the most important faceoff of the year to give the Terps a chance at overtime.
As Maryland worked the ball around the attacking zone, sophomore attackman Zach Whittier attempted to pass the ball to freshman attackman Braden Erksa, but it sailed over him, ending the Terps’ Big Ten regular-season title hopes and sealing a 12-11 victory for the Blue Jays.
“We looked like a team with a lot of guys playing in this game for the first time,” head coach John Tillman said. “We made some uncharacteristic mistakes, but you got to give credit to your opponent.”
Johns Hopkins overcame a four-game losing streak to the Terps, winning “The Rivalry” and a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. Maryland will be the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, and Johns Hopkins will be the No. 2 seed because of an earlier loss to Penn State — the top seed.
Maryland’s entire roster stayed on the field after the game and watched the Blue Jays hoist the wooden crab trophy given to the series’ annual victor, wishing they had another shot.
“We got to learn from this one, turn the page and get ready to go again,” graduate long-stick midfielder John Geppert said. “[We] can’t feel sorry for ourselves. Don’t let this thing linger. We just got to get going again.”
Both teams came up empty in their first two possessions, but the gloomy weather and slick turf did not stop Maltz. Maryland worked the ball around the attacking zone, which found Maltz at the “X.” The attackman attempted to shake off his defender, before roping around the net and rifling the ball into the cage.
It did not take Johns Hopkins much longer to get on the board, matching the Terps less than two minutes later. Melendez nuzzled into the middle of Maryland’s defense before firing the ball at goalie Brain Ruppel. The freshman dropped to his knees to make the save, but deflected the ball right to junior midfielder Brendan Grimes, who canned his first opportunity.
The Blue Jays scored the next goal, but their lead did not last long, as junior attackman Daniel Kelly and senior midfielder Kyle Long each found the back of the net minutes later for the Terps.
A combination of turnovers and missed shot attempts postponed the scoring for nearly 13 minutes — the next goal wouldn’t come until the 7:31 mark of the second quarter.
Maryland was extra aggressive after sophomore attackman Eric Spanos’ shot was blocked, hounding the Blue Jays at midfield. This decision proved to be a mistake, as the Terps’ defense was under-manned once Johns Hopkins broke through the press.
Melendez then caught the ball 10 yards away from the cage and awed the crowd with a slick behind-the-back pass, which found senior attackman Jacob Angelus for the score.
The Blue Jays tacked on another goal 30 seconds later when star attackman Garrett Degnon scored his 33rd goal of the season.
Maryland refused to let Johns Hopkins enter halftime with a lead, though, and Erksa answered the call. Erksa scored consecutive unassisted goals in the final five minutes and 30 seconds of the first half, resulting in the game’s fourth lead change.
The third quarter got off to a blazing start. Johns Hopkins scored two goals in the first two minutes, but Maryland retaliated with two of its own. The first came from junior defenseman Nick Redd, his first career goal, and Erksa scored the second.
Erksa’s masterful game continued moments later, as the freshman tattooed the top-right corner of the net for his fourth goal of the game.
The Blue Jays had a response for each Erksa outburst, however, and Johns Hopkins entered the fourth quarter with a one-goal advantage.
Freshman goalie Brain Ruppel kick-started the fourth quarter with an impressive save, and then Maltz returned the favor with his third goal of the day to tie the game, 10-10.
But it was Johns Hopkins that had the last laugh, scoring two goals and staving off a late comeback attempt to secure the win.
Three things to know
1. Sloppy first half. Maryland committed nine turnovers and missed 15 of its 20 shot attempts in the first half. The Blue Jays were even worse, however, producing 10 turnovers and a 0.211 shooting percentage. Both were better in the second half, though, resulting in an abundance of scoring.
“We just had quick turnovers,” Tillman said. “Just silly exchanges, you know, throwing to guys who were covered.”
2. A far cry from last year’s regular-season finale. The undefeated Terps beat the brakes off the Blue Jays in 2022, handing them their worst loss in program history, 22-7. Things were different this year, however, as Johns Hopkins never allowed the Terps to obtain more than a one-goal lead. The Blue Jays’ 12-11 win was their first over Maryland since 2019 and first under head coach Peter Milliman.
“It was a tough day to be a Blue Jay,” Milliman said of the 2022 loss. “For all the guys that were experiencing that with us, I just hope that they all can appreciate and be a part of this one tonight because it was a program win, it wasn’t just a team win.”
3. Johns Hopkins wins a share of the Big Ten regular-season title. Johns Hopkins and Penn State, following their wins over Maryland and Rutgers, are co-Big Ten regular-season champions. The two will each receive a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament, but Penn State will hold the No. 1 seed after defeating Johns Hopkins, 12-11, earlier this year. Maryland’s loss on Saturday night ended its two-year Big Ten regular-season title run.
“It’s a great feeling beating your rivals and winning a regular-season title,” Angelus said. “We’ll probably end up seeing those guys again, and we know that.”