The 2012 Loss Fuels Limestone's Title
|"This was a light group. Fridays before big Saturday games, they are joking around and it drives my staff nuts, but we've just let them go. Until they prove that they can't handle that, if they are showing up on Saturday, we have to let them go." - Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke. (John Strohsacker)|
As roster ages go, Limestone is a relatively young team. But a big reason the Saints won their first title since 2002 is because of something that happened two years ago.
Limestone entered the 2012 championship game as the favorite, having defeated its title opponent, Dowling, 15-7 in the regular-season finale. When the dust settled on the rematch, the Golden Lions had pulled out the improbable, 11-10 victory, leaving a stunned Saints team in their wake.
After the Saints defeated LIU Post on Sunday to win the program's third championship, I theorized that if that '12 Limestone team met this year's team, the older edition would win by five goals. That '12 team was loaded, led by the dynamic duo of Shayne Jackson and Riley Loewen and bolstered by a host of fantastic players. Saints head coach J.B. Clarke didn't necessarily disagree with my assessment.
But this year's team had a very different feel. What it may have lacked in the pure talent of its forbearers, it made up for with a precocious spirit and a desire to carve out its own legacy.
Was it something that just happened organically?
"I'd like to think we fertilized it a little bit," Clarke said. "This was a light group. Fridays before big Saturday games, they are joking around and it drives my staff nuts, but we've just let them go. Until they prove that they can't handle that, if they are showing up on Saturday, we have to let them go."
Other than an early season loss to Le Moyne in Baltimore, the Saints answered the bell every time. And while a lot of the players who made a difference against LIU Post, like sophomore Vinny Ricci, who was named the game's Most Outstanding Player after scoring four goals, weren't in Foxborough for the loss to Dowling, there were plenty who were.
And the loss was fuel.
"Especially for me and Anthony [Starnino], we were here in 2012 on the team that went up to Boston and ended up losing by a goal to a team that we beat a week or two [previously] by about seven goals," said senior attackman Todd Nakasuji, who scored two goals and set up a third on Sunday. "We kind of had a bitter feeling, a bitter taste in our mouths, and just knew this time as seniors we were going to do whatever it took. We came up here on a business trip and we were going to do whatever it took to win the championship this time. And we got it done."
"We had a few seniors that had been on the team for the four years and went through, like Todd was saying, that loss in 2012," added Starnino. "We know what it's like."
On the flip side, LIU Post's last title was in 2010, and there were no holdovers, other than head coach John Jez, with the experience of playing in the division's ultimate contest. It made a difference.
"I think it was championship game jitters, but it's on me," Jez said of some of the unforced errors made by the Pioneers. "I didn't put enough into it in preparing these guys. I assumed that by playing Le Moyne and Adelphi that they would accomplish what we were supposed to do. But being down here three or four days, we ran into some old traits. We have young guys on offense who aren't used to the pressure. We had guys on defense who kept making mistakes that caused some problems for us."
Jez was quick to credit Limestone, who he said would be where they are whether they were in the North or South region, but there were unstable moments caused by the stage the Pioneers were on.
"Little stuff, like forcing the ball," Jez said. "There was a quarter and a half left and we're still forcing the ball and we're trying to get a goal right away. There's still time to chip away."
Whether the 2012 Saints team would have defeated this Limestone squad is useless conjecture. They are part of the same program, and the guys on that second-place team two years ago undoubtedly take some measure of satisfaction in what their brethren accomplished this year.
But this team will always be special in Gaffney.
"We wanted to be different," Starnino said. "We ended up being different. We have a milestone now. We're the 2014 national champions. That's all you can say we wanted to do."
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