May 30, 2005
PHILADELPHIA - On a team full of seniors who carried the top-seeded Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team to a 15-0 record entering Monday's NCAA Division I Championship game against second-ranked Duke, it was a pair of sophomores who helped provide the difference as the Blue Jays capped a 16-0 season with a dramatic, 9-8 come-from-behind victory over the Blue Devils to secure the program's first national championship since 1987. The Blue Jays are just the third team since 1971 (when the NCAA began sponsoring the men's lacrosse national championship) to post a perfect 16-0 record.
Sophomore goalie Jesse Schwartzman helped shut down the nation's top scoring team in the second half as he posted seven of his 12 saves and allowed just one goal in the final 30 minutes and classmate Jake Byrne scored the unassisted game-winner with 13:35 remaining as Hopkins won its eighth NCAA title in front of a NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championship-game record 44,920.
"I am so proud of these guys right now," head coach Dave Pietramala noted in the post-game press conference. "When we lost a year ago, people told us that we quit. They just kept working. When we got back to campus they made a commitment that we were just going to take it one day at a time and we were going to play to the best of our ability. I'm just so proud of these kids, our fans and our administration."
Byrne's goal capped a stunning second half that could not have been more different than the first. The Devils carried a 7-6 lead into the second half and pushed the lead to 8-6 with a transition goal just 2:17 into the third quarter. Duke's Nick O'Hara stripped Kyle Harrison of the ball in his defensive zone, came up with the loose ball and jump-started a fast break that was finished by Matt Danowski off a feed from Zack Greer. Amazingly, that would be the last goal the Blue Devils would score on the day.
Freshman Paul Rabil started the Blue Jays' rally with his second unassisted goal of the game with 5:56 remaining in the third quarter. Rabil drove down the left side and beat Duke goalie Aaron Fenton with a left-handed shot between the legs.
The Blue Jays, who had led 1-0 early only to fall behind by two on three different occasions, then forced the fourth and final tie of the game with just under one minute remaining in the third. Junior Greg Peyser dropped down with a right-handed laser from 15 yards out that sailed between Fenton and the far post. That set the stage for Byrne's game-winner.
Byrne, who netted the goal against Virginia with 1.4 seconds remaining in regulation that forced overtime in the semifinals, did himself one better this time as he took a pass seven yards in front of the goal to Fenton's left, ducked inside and bounced a shot into the far corner. For the thousands of Hopkins fans in the stands, the remaining 13:35 seemed to take an eternity.
Both teams had chances down the stretch, but both defenses were up to the task. Schwartzman came up with three big saves in the final 12 minutes, including one on Danowski with 3:49 remaining, while Fenton stuffed a Harrison shot and the Devils forced a pair of Blue Jay turnovers, including one with less than three minutes to play, but couldn't solve the Hopkins defense and could only chase as the Blue Jays ran out the final 2:32.
"Our defense, Chris Watson, Tom Garvey and Matt Pinto, just did a tremendous job of forcing their shooters away and buckling down in the second half," Schwartzman stated after the game. "To have two seniors and Matt playing in front of me like that helps make my job a little easier."
A back-and-forth first half saw the teams combine for 13 goals with the Blue Devils clinging to the 7-6 lead at halftime. A Rabil goal for the Blue Jays just 33 seconds into the game opened the scoring, but Duke answered with three straight goals to take a 3-1 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Kyle Dowd got the Devils on the board with an unassisted goal 80 seconds after Rabil's tally and Danowski gave Duke its first lead four minutes later when he backed his defender in from the side and spun to the middle before beating Schwartzman with a low shot inside the far post. The first of Dan Flannery's two first-half goals just over a minute later capped the three-goal run for Duke and neither team scored again in the opening quarter.
After over five scoreless minutes to open the second quarter pushed the scoring drought to over 18 minutes, the Blue Jays got back-to-back goals in a span of just 48 seconds to draw even. Peyser dodged in from the top and got inside his defender before bouncing a shot past Fenton. Schwartzman then came up with a big save and quickly found senior Benson Erwin streaking up the field. Erwin carried into the offensive zone and found freshman Kevin Huntley, who side-stepped a defender and fired a shot past Fenton.
The Devils scored three of the next four goals to extend the lead to 6-4. Flannery's second goal of the game off an assist from Danowski with 8:14 remaining was quickly answered by a goal from Harrison. Flannery came from behind the goal and Danowski hit him in stride and Flannery beat Schwartzman from the doorstep, while Harrison grabbed the ground ball on the ensuing faceoff and beat Fenton with a left-handed shot just over his stick.
An extra-man goal by Zash and an even-strength goal by Bret Thompson push the lead to 6-4 for Duke, but the Blue Jays again answered quickly. Harrison beat Fenton with the same running jump shot - this time from the right side - with 3:48 remaining in the second quarter and Huntley added his second goal seven seconds later off an assist from Jake Byrne to make it 6-6. Another extra-man goal by Zash with 1:33 remaining in the second quarter closed the first half scoring and set the stage for the defensive effort and rally that landed the Blue Jays the championship they had been so close to grabbing in each of the last three years.
"We were criticized for quitting last year and I don't think we quit," Harrison stated in the post-game press conference. "I don't think we played our best, but I don't think we quit. I think this team, this year showed a never quit attitude and came out on top."
Notes: The Johns Hopkins 1980 NCAA Championship team was honored at halftime as it celebrated the 25th anniversary of its title. Ironically, the Blue Jays won that title with a 9-8 win over Virginia (in double overtime). Joining Schwartzman on the All-Tournament Team were Harrison and Peyser, Duke's Danowski, Zash, Flannery and O'Hara, Virginia's Matt Ward and Kip Turner and Maryland's Joe Walters. Dave Pietramala is the first person in the history of college lacrosse to win an NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship as a player and a head coach. The senior class ends its career with a record of 55-6, one national championship and four trips to the Final Four.