Adversity. That’s something last year’s Maryland men’s lacrosse team never faced. The word defined this year’s team — and it proved larger then ever Saturday. The Terps found themselves down five goals after 15 minutes, tied at the half and down one late.
With the shot clock winding down in the last two minutes, Army looked for an insurance goal, and got it. Freshman attacker Gunnar Fellows snapped his hat-trick goal into the back of the net to give the Black Knights a 16-14 lead.
Maryland had 60 seconds to salvage its season, but it fell just short. Junior attacker Daniel Kelly made it a one-goal game with 36 ticks of the clock to go, but the Terps couldn’t manage a shot on net after that. And as the buzzer sounded, reality set in.
For only the second time in head coach John Tillman’s tenure, the Terps fell in the first round, 16-15.
The fourth-seeded Terps looked as if they still hadn’t recovered from their shocking 14-5 defeat to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament championship game last weekend to start Saturday’s first round game. Army sophomore midfielder John Manero slid the pall past Maryland freshman goalie Brian Ruppel for the seventh time in the opening 15 minutes.
“We knew we’d have our hands full [tonight] and that’s exactly what we got,” Tillman said.
As the first quarter came to an end, boos sprinkled through SECU Stadium with unseeded Army holding a 7-2 advantage against the Terps.
One of the major X-factors coming into Saturday night’s game was who would win the faceoff battle between the nation’s two best draw control specialists: Maryland senior Luke Wierman and Army sophomore Will Coletti. Coletti won all but three of the first-quarter draws, allowing the Black Knights to run in transition. Ruppel couldn’t contain the Black Knights’ attack, giving up six goals on their first seven shots.
But he was far from the biggest problem. Maryland’s defense was all out of sorts, missing basic assignments, which gave Army wide-open shooting lanes. And on the offensive end, Maryland was emphatically introduced to the Patriot League Goalie of the Year, Knox Dent. Dent stonewalled the Terps, with four saves on six shots in the opening frame.
Tillman called a timeout late in the quarter, and the Terps definitely heard whatever message was said.
Freshman attacker Braden Erksa began the comeback, as he opened the second quarter with two goals in four seconds to cut the lead to three.
Wierman, after struggling on draw controls in the opening frame, dominated in that area in the second. At one point, he won seven straight against Coletti.
Senior attackers Ryan Siracusa and Daniel Maltz quickly added a pair for the Terps, before both teams stalled a bit.
But with just under four minutes to go in the half, redshirt freshman attacker Eric Spanos used his speed to score Maryland’s fifth straight goal to even the score at seven.
Less than a minute later, though, Army junior midfielder Reese Burek beat Ruppel from in close to give the visitors the lead back.
“I didn’t feel like we really set [Ruppel] up for success early,” Tillman said. “You know, I didn’t feel we let him get comfortable and see some shots from the outside. And that’s tough.”
Tillman added that Ruppel “gave everything” and did a “really good job” all year in the absence of Logan McNaney.
Redshirt freshman attacker Zach Whitter responded shortly after, and these teams went into the break tied after a tail of two quarters.
While the opening half was loose and wide open, the last 30 minutes were tightly-contested and hard-checking.
After a back-and-forth start to the second half, graduate defender Brett Makar, in his last game as a Terp, made one of the best plays of his career. On the defensive end, he scooped up a ground ball before sprinting across the field and lasered the ball past Dent.
The coast-to-coast goal tied the game up at 11. And seconds later, Erksa gave the Terps their first lead of the game. But the energy that was felt in SECU Stadium after that goal was short lived — and not to be repeated.
Maryland led 12-11 headed into the fourth, but Army’s offense lit it up in the final 15 minutes.
The Black Knights got a man-up opportunity halfway through the frame, and freshman attacker Dawson Clark scored to regain the lead, 14-13.
Erksa tied it with his fourth of the evening shortly after, but Army then hit the dagger. It scored the next two — with the latter coming with 53 seconds left — and Maryland’s hopes of advancing whimpered.
Despite the late goal by Kelly to draw the Terps within one, the ball found itself bouncing near the halfway line, and kept on rolling as the clock hit zero.
Maryland finished the season at 10-6, and Army will face the winner of Penn State and Princeton in the quarterfinals.
“Yeah, a lot of ups and downs [this year]. And even tonight, you know, just didn’t start great, but the way we battled kind of just summed up what this group did all year,” Makar said.
Three things to watch
1. Maryland was asleep to start the game. Army took it to the Terps from the opening whistle. Ruppel was hung out to dry, and the seven goals scored in the first by the Black Knights proved crucial in the end result.
2. An absolute thriller in College Park. Saturday’s game was one of the most exciting contests of the entire season. Both teams took turns dominating each other in the first half, and went back and forth in the second. Maryland had a chance to tie it in the waning seconds, and this one truly wasn’t over until the final buzzer sounded.
3. Unfamiliar territory. The Terps spent the past two seasons competing for championships on Memorial Day weekend. This year, they’re headed home after the first round. The last time the Terps were eliminated in the opening round was in 2013.