Maryland men's lacrosse tried to exorcise its national championship demons on Memorial Day against North Carolina, but once again, the Terps didn't have any luck. For a while in the fourth quarter, the Terps looked like they would leave Lincoln Financial Field with a national championship - something they hadn't done since 1975. When the Tar Heels came back to force overtime and scored to win it, the Terrapins had to watch another team celebrate for the second straight season.
The nerves were there; the tense atmosphere that characterized decades of disappointment. With the fate of Maryland's season in the balance. In the press box, headlines were scrapped. In the crowd, brows were furrowed, hands were clasped together as if in prayer.
This Maryland team was supposed to win its first national championship since 1975 because of its balance. Its balanced offense, its balanced defense and its strong midfield. Eight Terps were named All-Americans this season. There were no Tewaaraton finalists on this team, and the two first-teamers aren't household names. This wasn't a team full of superstars, but this was the Maryland team that was supposed to win it all.
Forty-one years of pain, of disappointment, was going to melt away in the overcast Philadelphia sky. The Terps' elation would be high as the clouds above them.
Maryland's dreams of a national championship ended on this very same field on Memorial Day last year. This 14-13 result was closer than the Terps' 10-5 loss to Denver in 2015. But it was still another title game and another loss. Another opportunity slipping just out of reach.
A two-goal lead - gone. The Terps had an extra-man opportunity and a chance to win on the first possession of overtime. They didn't convert. Instead, it was Chris Cloutier wearing Carolina blue who scored the deciding goal, his record-breaking 19th of the tournament.
"Certainly had our chances," said Maryland head coach John Tillman after the game. "We just didn't get it done."
The Terps, with tears in their eyes, watched another team run by them and celebrate winning a national championship. Again.
The Terrapins played well enough to win, but they came up just short. Again.
The title they seek continues to elude them. Again.
A dumb decision and penalty on Maryland gave UNC a chance to win. The Tar Heels seized it. Maryland slowly walked off the field; the shock still fresh, still painful.
When asked what he told his players when they huddled up on the field as UNC celebrated behind them, Tillman said, "I told them I loved them, which I do." His voice started to quiver. "Seeing those faces is tough...You want to see them smile and that's the hardest part."
He took both of his hands and put them over his eyes. He kept them for a few seconds before trying to continue.
"It's never about us. It's always about them. This group is awesome. Absolutely awesome: school, community service and on the field."
Tillman was using every ounce of willpower to stay composed. It wasn't working. His eyes were red. His face was wet with tears. The emotions were too real and too raw.
Maryland is now 0-9 in national championship games since that one glorious day in 1975. Forty-one years have come and gone. As Maryland men's lacrosse walked off of the Lincoln Financial Field turf, Van Halen's "On Top of the World" blared over the speakers.
"Someday, we'll be standing on top of the world," the song goes. It was a reminder of UNC's triumph and Maryland's seemingly unending agony but, while painful to hear now, it also serves as prophecy. The Terps will win the national championship in men's lacrosse.
They will win, but not this year. Someday, the Terps will be standing on top of the world. Until that day, Maryland men's lacrosse and Terp nation must mitigate and navigate the heart-breaking, heart-wrenching loss that they suffered on Monday afternoon.
This senior class was a special one. Talented? God, yes. Humble? Without a doubt.
Don't forget that John Tillman didn't just lose another title game; another chance for a national championship. He lost a group of wonderful kids as well. He wanted so badly for them to win. He wanted so badly to see them smile. If your heart breaks for these players, it should break for Tillman too.
Sitting on the dais, John Tillman searched for words. Not just any words, but the right words. Words that would capture not just his love for his seniors, but his pain and disappointment as well. In the midst of his pain and disappointment, in the midst of his heartbreak and agony, Tillman found those words. They were simple, heartfelt, truthful and, in keeping with the theme of the day for Maryland, utterly heartbreaking.
Tillman wiped the tears from his eyes and said, "I'm sad to see 'em go."