The clock was ticking on Maryland men’s lacrosse’s season. In a back-and-forth thriller of an NCAA Tournament first-round game Sunday at No. 6-seed Towson, the Terps had surrendered three straight goals and suddenly trailed by one. Now it was the final minute, and while Maryland had the ball, anything less than an equalizing goal wouldn’t suffice.
Just five minutes of real time later, the Terps were celebrating a 14-13 overtime victory and a trip to the quarterfinals. They’ll play No. 3-seed Virginia at noon ET this Saturday in West Hempstead, New York.
If Kyle Long doesn’t find Jared Bernhardt, or if the star attackman doesn’t catch and fire in one motion and place his shot perfectly, Maryland walks off the field wondering what went wrong. How an 11-2 start turned into three straight losses and a rare early exit in May. Instead, the game went to overtime, and Louis Dubick buried the winner, and a swarm of red overtook the field, and there was another game to play.
“We talk about it all the time—the hardest thing with the season is these guys, we are all going so fast. They’re busy with their schoolwork, they’re putting a lot of time in, we’re breaking down film, we’re doing everything. And the hard part when you lose that last game is everything stops, and it’s the emptiest feeling in the world,” head coach John Tillman said after the game. “So we tried to use that as motivation this week—like, ‘We’ve just got to keep this thing rolling.’”
For so much of Sunday’s game, though, it looked like the same sad story.
In both of Maryland’s back-to-back losses to Johns Hopkins, the Terps were in control early but eventually lost the lead, then simply couldn’t find enough shots to keep up. Those five-goal defeats were defined by sloppy turnovers, and this one was defined early by Towson’s dominance at the faceoff dot. Alex Woodall, second in the nation in faceoff percentage but making his first appearance since April 20 because of a broken jaw, won 22 of 31 draws against a trio of Maryland challengers. And in the late first and early second quarters, that constant possession translated into a 6-0 Towson run, giving the Tigers a 7-3 lead.
Maryland didn’t fold this time, though. The Terps quieted Towson’s offense for the last 4:46 of the half and got two goals back themselves. That made it 7-5 at halftime, and Tillman felt like his team had “weathered the storm” and given itself a chance.
“There was no doubt we were going to keep plugging and make some plays and get the thing back,” Tillman said. “Would we win? I [didn’t] know, but we were just telling the defense to hang in there, because their formula is very similar to Hopkins—long possessions, grind us down, grind and grind and grind.”
The run continued, and Maryland eventually leveled the score at 8-8 with Dubick’s man-up goal late in the third quarter. Towson struck twice to take a 10-8 lead into the fourth, but if not for Danny Dolan’s heroics in goal, Maryland wouldn’t have been nearly that close. In the first three quarters, Dolan had a staggering 13 saves on 23 shots faced; he finished the day with 15-for-28. In his first and last year as a college starter, the redshirt senior was his best self on the biggest stage.
“Fifteen saves, that’s just insane,” defenseman Curtis Corley said. “Even in the clearing game, he’s doing exactly what he needs to do. He’s getting the ball to the right guy. I feel like at times he really bailed us out.”
NCAA Tournaments always require role players stepping up. The Terps’ first three goals were scored by Anthony DeMaio, Long and long-stick midfielder Matt Rahill. Senior Wes Janeck, who’s been used as a faceoff wing and as an emergency FOGO at times, didn’t fold at the X against Woodall. Long, a five-star freshman who’s flashed his incredible potential in spurts but entered Sunday with just 16 points, finished with five on one goal and four assists and set up the tying and winning goals.
But Maryland was still at its best when its stars played like stars. The Terps’ four goals to start the fourth quarter, turning a 10-8 deficit into a 12-10 lead, all came from their top three scorers: Logan Wisnauskas (twice), Bernhardt and Bubba Fairman. And with the season on the line, Maryland turned to Bernhardt. The trio combined for eight goals and 11 points overall.
The winning goal from Dubick, a third-generation member of this program, sent Maryland and its fan base into euphoria. But it’ll take the same things going right, and more, for the Terps to take down Virginia and reach the Final Four. They’ll once again need their headliners, their supporting cast, their senior goalie, a little bit of luck and a lot of heart and resilience.
“It’s special, a moment I’ll never forget, and it wouldn’t happen without these guys, without these coaches,” Dubick said. “Without Jared’s play, without Danny’s saves, without Curtis’ ground balls, without Wes coming in, that moment doesn’t happen.”