Duke Overwhelms Syracuse in Title Game Win
Duke captured its second national championship in program history behind faceoff weapon Brendan Fowler and a balanced offense that took advantage of its possessions in a 16-10 win over Syracuse at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
© Kevin P. Tucker
PHILADELPHIA — Duke gave up the first five goals in Monday's NCAA championship game at Lincoln Financial Field, and the Blue Devils had little reason to panic. Duke knew it had one of the game's most explosive offenses, not to mention the ultimate fuse with which to spark it against top-seeded Syracuse.
So junior faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler went to work and Duke's excellent shooters followed suit. Before long, Syracuse was in over its head, and Duke was headed for a 16-10 rout, before 28,244 fans.
While winning the second national title in school history and its first since 2010, seventh-seeded Duke (16-5) dismantled a Syracuse (16-4) team that had lived on the edge for much of 2013. The Orange survived with sporadic offense and pedestrian faceoff play, and thrived on defense, toughness and savvy to reach their 17th NCAA final. Syracuse got to Memorial Day with a remarkable 7-3 record in one-goal games.
But along came the train from Durham to wreck any Orange plans for a 12th national title and a sixth for head coach John Desko. Along came Duke with its array of weapons that hit Syracuse like a rogue wave and carried the Blue Devils to the 14th victory in their last 15 games.
That series of punches powered Duke through the second and third quarters, when it used a huge amount of possession advantage to outscore Syracuse, 10-3. By the time the fourth quarter began, Duke was still surging with a 10-7 lead. The Blue Devils would score the first three goals of the fourth period to bury the Orange.
For Duke, the key moment may have come when junior attackman Jordan Wolf — he led the Blue Devils with four goals and two assists — took a feed from Christian Walsh and scored from the crease to notch Duke's first goal. With that, the Blue Devils trailed Syracuse, 5-1, with 12:54 remaining in the first half. It had taken Duke 17 minutes to score, but the tone changed for the Blue Devils.
"Nobody scripts being down 4-0 or 5-0, and inside I think we were all freaking out. But that first goal I think allowed everybody to relax a little bit," said Duke coach John Danowski, who has guided the Blue Devils to seven straight final four weekends. "You could feel the sideline change."
And Fowler, the premier faceoff man in Division I and the eventual Most Outstanding Player award winner for the tournament, was just getting warmed up. Following a rough start in which he lost two of five draws, committed a violation and was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct in the first quarter, Fowler regrouped with a fury.
In the second and third quarters, Fowler won 14 of 15 draws. He was the main reason Duke won the ground ball battle over that stretch by a decisive, 23-10 margin. While Syracuse tried to steady its stretched-out defense and switched from man-to-man to zone and back, the Blue Devils worked the ball around with their typical precision and let the smart shots fly from everywhere.
Not even Syracuse, which had rarely given up long scoring runs this year, could stem the Duke tide. Senior midfielders Jake Tripucka (three goals, two assists), David Lawson (two goals) and second-line force Josh Offit (three goals, two assists) were lethal. Attackman Josh Dionne finished with three goals.
Jake Tripucka (7) had three goals and three assists and Jordan Wolf (31) notched four goals and two helpers in Duke's triumph.
© Lee Weissman
"I violated a few times early, kind of let it get to my head a little bit," Fowler said. "Once I cooled down a little and stuck to what I do every day, I got into a groove there and just felt pretty good going out there every time."
"We've been down plenty of times this season," Tripucka said. "When it was 5-0, it wasn't like we were thinking when is [our scoring] going to come? Not when you have the shooters we have. Not when we have the animal [Fowler]."
Fowler ended up winning 20 of 28 draws against a combined six options for Syracuse. By the time Orange defenseman Brian Megill (5-for-7) went to battle Fowler in the fourth quarter, it was too late for Syracuse.
By the time Tripucka had dived across the crease while scoring his third goal to give Duke a commanding, 13-7 lead with 10:47 left, the Orange had put six shots on goal since the first quarter.
"We just couldn't get the ball in the second half," said Desko, who saluted Fowler. "He's strong. He has more than one technique. He adjusted well to what we did. I guess there's a reason why he's a first-team All-American."
"Their faceoff guy is something special, and their offense is even more special," Megill said. "We knew [Duke] was going to go on a run and we just had to try and stop the bleeding."
Syracuse, which had staged fourth-quarter comebacks to nip Yale and Denver and reach the season's final game, flipped that script this time. With attackman Kevin Rice (one goal, three assists) directing traffic smoothly, four different players scored the game's first five goals for the Orange. Syracuse hit a high-water mark when attackman Dylan Donahue (three goals, one assist) made it 5-0 with 14:18 left in the first half.
Wolf then got the Blue Devils on the board. Scott Loy answered with a 14-yard laser to make it 6-1 with 11:47 to go in the half. After that, the Syracuse fade really began. By the time Donahue had scored his third goal to give the Orange a 7-6 lead with 4:28 left in the third quarter, the Orange had gone over 22 minutes without a goal (and hardly any possession time). Meanwhile, five different scorers had found the back of the net for Duke.
Duke's knockout punch followed. First, Lawson tied the game for the last time at 7-7 with a step-down, 10-yard rocket with 2:46 left in the period. Offit scored from up top to give Duke a lead it would not relinquish with 2:01 left. Duke scored five more unanswered goals to put the Orange down for good.
When it was over, Duke, which had trailed each of its tournament opponents — it rallied from a four-goal, second-half deficit against Loyola in the first round and overcame a late, two-goal hole against Notre Dame in the quarterfinals — relished the way it had imposed its will one more time.
Does anybody remember when the Blue Devils were struggling with a 2-4 record?
"At 2-4, you're not even thinking about a national championship," Tripucka said. "You're just trying to win a game."
The Blue Devils won a lot and won it all in style. Their sophomore goalie Kyle Turri, who stepped in to replace injured senior Dan Wigrizer in March, finished with a 14-1 record and somehow didn't make the all-tournament team, despite saving 27 shots in Philadelphia.
But this team was about offense first and offense last. The Blue Devils, who are 22-6 in their last 28 NCAA tournament games, scored 16 goals in each of their Memorial Day weekend wins. Duke hit or surpassed that number a remarkable 10 times in 2013.
Wolf, the Philadelphia native and the leading scorer who finished with 57 goals 28 assists to lead Duke in both categories, savored the moment and a weekend during which he did his thing in front of nearly 50 friends and relatives.
"I've never won anything in lacrosse," he said. "There are no words to describe this."