Cavs Find Answer Again, Top Terps for Title
Midfielder Colin Briggs scored five goals two days after being suspended for Saturday's semifinal, earning Most Outstanding Player honors after Virginia's 9-7 victory over Maryland in the NCAA championship game.
BALTIMORE – The great teams always answer, and in a season where Virginia repeatedly had to rally from wounds both self-inflicted and otherwise, the Cavaliers saved perhaps their best answer for last.
Midfielder Colin Briggs scored five goals two days after being suspended for Saturday's semifinal, and attackman Matt White added two of his three during a championship-clinching, three-goal spurt late in the fourth quarter, as seventh-seeded Virginia pulled away from home-standing Maryland for a 9-7 win in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse final Monday before 35,661 sun-drenched fans at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Terrapins had tied the game at 6 and rallied their de facto home crowd, but White and Briggs combined to deliver the Cavaliers their fifth national title to conclude a roller coaster of a season.
"I'm happy for Colin that he scored some goals, but him playing was not the most important piece of what happened the last couple days," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "Hopefully he gets a little smarter because of what we've been through. He played well. We won the game, so it makes for a special moment. Like a lot of guys, they have to stub their toe to figure some things out sometimes."
Briggs was suspended for Saturday's 14-8 semifinal win over Denver, but Starsia said Sunday he would be available for Monday's final. He got into the game early, asserted himself immediately with fresh legs and delivered the knockout blow, but only after White stopped the Terrapins in their tracks.
Maryland's Ryan Young, himself a testimony to endurance after continuing his season in the wake of his mother's passing last month, had just faked out goalie Adam Ghitelman after a Grant Catalino pass to complete a 3-0 run and send the Terrapin faithful into hysterics at 6-6 with 11:43 remaining.
But Virginia's Garett Ince took a rare faceoff win against Curtis Holmes, and White caught Ryan Bohlander ball-watching to convert a Nick O'Reilly feed to silence the crowd and put the Cavaliers ahead to stay, 7-6, at 10:03. White tallied again at 5:29 courtesy of Steele Stanwick's only point of the day, and then Briggs dismissed much of the crowd at 1:50 by finishing O'Reilly's fourth assist after shedding both Bohlander and Brett Schmidt. In between, Ince won another faceoff and Virginia's zone defense forced a couple of turnovers.
"I didn't know [if I was going to play today]. I was ready to do whatever role coach wanted me to do," Briggs said. "I was definitely disappointed in myself. I felt like I had to come back and give everything I had."
Everything he had was too much for the Terps' defense, which otherwise ended Chris Bocklet's 35-game scoring streak and very much limited Tewaaraton finalist Stanwick.
"You look at the guy who scored five goals today, Colin Briggs, and he was the only guy who did not play Saturday, and he looked a little faster than everybody else," Maryland coach John Tillman said.
"We got knocked to the ground a couple times," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said of the Cavaliers' tumultuos season ending in his fourth national championship. "They had to decide that it was important enough to pick back up and get going again."
Briggs scored three times in the first half and continued his exploits early in the second, simply outrunning Brian Farrell along the right side and beating Amato for a 6-3 Virginia lead. The Cavaliers killed off a 30-second penalty before Catalino finally got Maryland on the board again, ending a 15:46 drought, when he converted a Joe Cummings pass with 6:58 left in the frame.
Farrell rebounded at the other end, scoring on the doorstep early in the fourth on consecutive passes from Owen Blye and Ryan Young on a quick restart following a Virginia offsides. Young then knocked the Cavs down with his equalizer, but as they had done throughout a season marred with player suspensions (the Bratton twins, Ghitelman, Briggs), injuries (Stanwick, veteran long pole Matt Lovejoy) and even the bizarre (travel problems getting to Stony Brook for a Feb. 26 game), they got back up.
"We had to reconfigure ourselves midway through the season," Starsia said. "We got knocked to the ground a couple times. They had to decide that it was important enough to pick back up and get going again. Those things don't always happen in athletics. I give them an awful lot of credit for doing it.
"The game today epitomized the season that we've had. We started out well. Certainly expected Maryland to come back and make a run at us. To have it tied and with the crowd and momentum shifting, for us to figure out a way to make the plays we needed to win the game -- we got off the canvas again and won the game in the fourth quarter, and it certainly means a great deal."
In their 12-7 regular-season win over Virginia April 2, the Terps held the Cavs scoreless for a stretch of 25:21. They began the final the same way, due mainly to five first-quarter saves by Amato.
"We were a little slow off the bus," Tillman said.
The Terps got on the board 2:33 into the game when Catalino lost Bray Malphrus on a switch and Blake Riley on a cut down the right side and converted a John Haus feed for a 1-0 lead. It would stay that way as Ghitelman also made some stops early, when Blye wasn't short-arming feeds on the crease. Those missed chances may have cost the Terps, as Virginia eventually ended a 17:17 scoreless drought when Briggs scored from O'Reilly 2:13 into the second period.
The Cavaliers' much-publicized switch to a zone defense happened after that game in April.
"Our plan was to attack inside with a two-man crease," Catalino said. "We got a lot of looks early. Adam made a bunch of good saves. We hit a few pipes. Missed a few shots. We prepared hard and executed our game plan. It just seemed the ball didn't roll our way today."
Behind unlikely sources – with Maryland's Schmidt limiting Stanwick and Bohlander doing the same to Bocklet – Virginia gradually solved Amato and took control of the half. Mark Cockerton assisted on back-to-back goals late in the second period, and Briggs finished the stanza with three scores, the last of which was a rocket at 1:59 after Cockerton passed out of a double team for the 5-3 margin at the break. Earlier, the Terps turned a 2-1 hole into a 3-2 lead – and ended a 19-minute scoreless drought – on goals 30 seconds apart by Haus and Blye, who atoned for his earlier missed chances by beating Ghitelman.
But despite a 7-for-10 performance on first-half draws by Holmes (who finished 12-for-19), Maryland struggled to solve Virginia's defense, which mainly stayed in a zone but occasionally matched up. The Terps had a great chance to reverse momentum after winning the ensuing faceoff at 1:59, but Ghitelman stopped Landon Carr's fast-break shot and ultimately the clear went to Malphrus. Amato saved a similar transition opportunity to keep the spread at two entering halftime.