May 17, 2015
The University of Notre Dame men's lacrosse program already had accomplished a handful of firsts during the 2015 season:
-- The Irish spent four straight weeks ranked number one in the national polls.
-- They worked their way unblemished through their Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season slate of games, including dramatic one-goal home wins over eventual No. 2 NCAA seed Syracuse and No. 3 NCAA seed North Carolina.
-- They earned the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Championship (Notre Dame's previous best seed had been No. 2 in 2013).
Saturday in Denver while knocking off unseeded but sixth-ranked Albany 14-10 in the NCAA Championship quarterfinal round, they established yet another:
-- The Irish qualified for their second straight NCAA Championship Weekend, their third in four years and their fourth in six years. Notre Dame (12-2) will meet No. 4 seed Denver (15-2 and in its fourth Championship Weekend in five years) Saturday in Philadelphia in one national semifinal.
The Irish did it with a remarkable fourth-period flurry of six straight goals--to answer a run of five straight by Albany that had left the Great Danes on top 9-8 after three periods.
They did it with solid and consistent play between the pipes from sophomore goaltender Shane Doss (10 saves).
They did it with an impressive face-off effort from sophomore P.J. Finley (he won 16 of 25).
And, most particularly, they did it with a lockdown defensive effort by junior Matt Landis against Albany superstar Lyle Thompson, who some have suggested will end up being rated the best lacrosse player in history (Irish coach Kevin Corrigan says there's certainly no debate Thompson qualifies as the most creative). Landis, with some double- and triple-teaming assistance at times, limited Thompson to a single goal, forced him into six turnovers and held him to one-of-11 shooting.
Here's how it unfolded on Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium:
* Lacrosse fans probably looked forward to this 2015 quarterfinal matchup more than any other, simply because it qualified as a juicy rematch of a quarterfinal game from a year ago that went down as one of the all-time great NCAA Championship contests (the Irish won 14-13, rebounding from a late five-goal deficit and winning on an overtime goal by Matt Kavanagh).
* Here's what Corrigan offered up to his team before the game:
"The NCAA must think we've got another weekend in us because they gave us green bananas.
"Don't get distracted by anything today--whether it's the weather or the environment of a big stadium or plays by their guys.
"Let's go out there and trust ourselves and have a great day."
* It was dark and overcast at game time. After the Irish survived an early Landis slash on Thompson, Albany drew first blood on a lefty, sidewinder from Connor Fields (the first of his six goals) on an assist from Thompson (the first of his four). The lone Great Dane penalty of the day (interference at 9:27) allowed Sergio Perkovic to answer 15 seconds later (the first of his four goals) for the sole man-up tally Saturday for either team.
* Thompson's lone goal of the day came at 7:11 of the opening period and put Albany up 2-1. (For the record, Thompson had one game in 2015 when he was held without a goal--versus Binghamton--and had three other contests with a single goal.) Notre Dame's Conor Doyle came around from behind the goal for the first of his three tallies to tie it at two at 2:03 and that's the way the first period ended.
* Said Corrigan to his team at the quarter break, "Be patient, run the offense, don't settle for mediocre shots."
* Jack Near skipped one in off a restart to put the Irish up 3-2, and Matt Kavanagh picked up a loose ball and found himself all alone in front and scored to make it 4-3 Irish at 8:52.
* At 1:50 p.m. local time, with 5:44 left in the second period, a lightning delay began and the teams left the field. Each time another lightning strike was recorded within eight miles, the clock reset to 30 minutes. That happened three different times and resulted in an 80-minute delay. At 2:35 p.m. the two head coaches met with NCAA officials and the ESPN producer and they agreed that, given the long delay, there would be no halftime (only a normal between-periods break) once the game restarted. The teams went back on the grass at 3 p.m. and began play after a 10-minute warm-up period.
* What happens during a more-than-an-hour lightning delay? Corrigan began with a 20-minute chalk-talk session with his players, yet as he noted later, "At some point there was nothing else left to say." The players lounged all around the locker room and training room, some snacking, some hydrating, some listening to music, some just trying to relax.
* Without question, the Irish responded better to the delay. After the restart, Notre Dame scored four of the five goals recorded before halftime:
Will Corrigan wheeled in front and fired one in at 3:31.
After a Fields tally, Doyle scored from Near at 2:31 (so, three combined goals in a minute).
Doyle completed his hat trick at 1:22 from the right wing.
Doyle fed Perkovic for a score at :57.0, with those four Notre Dame goals coming in a 2:34 span, for an 8-4 Irish advantage.
* By halftime the sky had brightened and the breeze had picked up, and it looked like the Irish had all the momentum after their surge late in the second period. But Albany then went on a 5-0 run (three of the goals by Fields) through the entire third period and held the Irish scoreless for 17:21. Fields tied it at eight at 4:16 on a nifty behind-the-back tally, and Kyle McClancy gave the Great Danes the lead at 9-8 at 2:25.
* It's hard to imagine Notre Dame responding to that deficit with any more poise and execution in a pressurized situation. Here's how it happened:
-- The Irish won the fourth-period faceoff and Perkovic tied the game at nine at 13:36.
-- Sixteen seconds later, fifth-year senior Jim Marlatt put the Irish ahead for good and prompted an Albany timeout.
-- Mikey Wynne picked up a loose ball at midfield, sprinted by himself ahead of the pack and finished at 11:11 (three goals in 2:25 for the Irish).
-- Denver product Nick Ossello dodged and accounted for a goal at 9:07 (12-9 Irish and four straight goals in 4:29).
-- Perkovic added his fourth at 6:23.
-- At 5:45 Ossello flipped one in sideways to make it 14-9, on six consecutive Notre Dame goals over a 7:51 span.
* After three hours and 20 minutes, the Irish had a 14-10 triumph over a Great Dane team that won a school-record 16 games.
* Much of the postgame discussion centered on the end of Thompson's career, with his NCAA Division I records of 400 points and 225 assists.
But it couldn't obscure the efforts of ACC Defensive Player of the Year Landis, who earned a good night's sleep with his tough, physical work on the Albany veteran.
"That Landis kid is as good as anybody we've played all year," said Albany coach Scott Marr. "Matt Landis was unbelievable today," said Corrigan. "I don't think you can play him (Thompson) better than he did."
ESPN's Anish Shroff called it a "masterful" defensive game plan by Corrigan, defensive coordinator Gerry Byrne and the Irish.
* Notre Dame's balance is no better exhibited by the fact the Irish have prevailed in NCAA play the last two weekends without requiring major contributions from two of their top goal-scorers. Against Towson and Albany combined, Kavanagh and Wynne have one goal apiece (no assists for either player).
* Notre Dame's defense Saturday held Albany to 10 goals. The only Great Dane opponent to do better than that was Cornell, a 16-9 victor over Albany back on Feb. 28.
* The Irish stayed to scout the second game in Denver and arrived back in South Bend about 2:15 a.m. EDT Sunday.
* Since Irish senior player parents and families were hard-pressed to make it back from Denver for Notre Dame commencement ceremonies Sunday in South Bend, the Irish held their own Mass and graduation ceremony late Friday afternoon in their Holiday Inn Express headquarters in downtown Denver.
Former Irish basketball standout and longtime Denver resident Bill Hanzlik served as guest speaker. Diplomas went to 12 graduates, including Jim Marlatt and Ryan Smith, both of whom earned their MBA degree and graduated cum laude.
* As the Irish players gathered by their locker room door Saturday to head out for pregame warm-ups, Marlatt offered to no one in particular, "Ain't done yet . . ."
He couldn't have been any more prophetic. Green bananas, indeed.
-- by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director