May 24, 2015
A flick of the wrist on a single shot and it was over.
That's how close it was again today between the University of Notre Dame and Denver, the top two programs in the men's lacrosse preseason polls and then contestants in an 11-10 overtime win for the Pioneers in Denver back on March 7.
The score Saturday was identical, and the same team won the game. This time the stakes involved a berth in the NCAA Championship title game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. This time Wesley Berg snapped off the winning shot that found the net with 2:03 remaining in the first overtime period. That negated an amazing Notre Dame rally that produced five Sergio Perkovic goals in the final period alone and four straight Irish goals overall after Denver had taken a seemingly overwhelming 10-6 advantage with 4:23 remaining.
The Irish never led, but Nick Ossello's second tally of the afternoon in front of a crowd of 29,123 fans tied the game at 10 each with :09.0 seconds left in regulation.
The contest picked up speed late. The teams combined for 10 goals in the first three periods, then totaled 11 in the fourth period and the overtime.
A turnover here, a missed clear there, a ground ball here. That's all that separated these two squads.
Here's how it all unfolded:
-- After a 9:30 a.m. breakfast at their team hotel, the Irish received a police escort at 11 a.m. to Lincoln Financial Field, arriving about 11:20 a.m. With the Division II and III finalist teams practicing on the field until 11:45 a.m., Notre Dame dressed and waited its chance to take to the grass in perfect, sunny and 61-degree conditions.
-- Irish coach Kevin Corrigan chatted with ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich on his way off the field. The players attached 2015 NCAA Championship logo patches to their left sleeves. The sign in the Irish locker room read "CHAMPIONS PLAY HERE" and featured that same logo.
-- At 12:13 p.m., Corrigan said, "Let's roll," and the Irish headed out for warm-ups. Corrigan visited with retiring NCAA national officiating coordinator Warren Kimber. The players stretched, while assistant coach Kevin Anderson shot against the Notre Dame goaltenders. Notre Dame's head coach also shared pregame comments with the four game officials, Denver coach Bill Tierney and NCAA men's lacrosse championship director Anthony Holman. At noon the temperature was 63 degrees.
-- At 12:41 p.m. the Irish left the field, and Corrigan gathered his players around the whiteboard for some late strategy.
Said Corrigan, "If we go out for the first faceoff and think about winning the game, we just need to think about winning the faceoff. Stay in the moment. Worry about what you need to do. We need to think about getting the next ground ball. You've got your process. Trust yourself. Play each play."
-- At 1 p.m. the Drexel ROTC color guard took the field, and Audra McLaughlin from Season 6 of "The Voice" sang the National Anthem. Irish goaltender Shane Doss hugged his defensemen, and the game was ready to begin.
-- The disciplined Pioneers put the first two goals on the board in the opening four minutes, presaging how Notre Dame would have to come from behind all day. Jim Marlatt answered for the Irish at 7:32, then Conor Doyle notched his seventh goal in this NCAA Championship to tie it at two. After one period the shots were even at 10 each, with Denver's Trevor Baptiste winning four of the first five face-offs.
"Let's run our offense," said Corrigan to his team between periods. "Keep working. We're going to get what we want down there."
-- The Irish defense held Denver scoreless for nearly 17 minutes, but Notre Dame could muster only an Ossello tally in the final 19 minutes of the opening half. Denver led 4-3 at the break.
-- As Corrigan spoke with ESPN's Paul Carcaterra about Denver's long possessions, he noted, "We've got to win more ground balls and turn clears into possessions. We need to put a little heat on them."
To his team, Corrigan offered, "We're in great shape. We need to be smart and make our plays. We've got all the opportunities in the world."
-- The Irish needed less than three minutes to tie it, on a Will Corrigan goal. Berg came back to put the Pioneers up by a goal when he scored at 7:23, and Denver added two more to make it 7-4 as Notre Dame went scoreless for 19:48.
That's when Perkovic caught fire. (He now has 19 goals in seven NCAA Championship games.) Here's what his run looked like:
* The first one came from Eddy Lubowicki at the 8:00 mark and made it 7-5 for the Pioneers.
* Denver scored twice more to make it 9-5 before Perkovic scored again at 4:40 (from Corrigan).
* Denver needed only 17 seconds to record a Berg goal, but Perkovic responded 45 seconds later (from Mikey Wynne) and it was 10-7 with 3:38 left.
* Perkovic did it again at 3:01 (again from Corrigan). 10-8.
* Then Perkovic again at 2:03. 10-9.
* The Irish called timeout with the ball at :22.8, and Ossello tied the game against his hometown team with :09.0 left.
* The game's regulation periods ended at 10-10, the exact same score between the same teams after four quarters in Denver back in March.
-- To begin overtime, Denver won the faceoff, the Irish forced a turnover, the Pioneers pried the ball away from Matt Kavanagh and called timeout at 2:29. Twenty-six seconds later Berg won it for the Pioneers.
The stunned Irish players stood motionless, and a few bent at the knees.
-- The game had been almost identical to the teams' regular-season meeting, except it was the Irish who led 10-7 in March before the late Pioneer rally. Saturday it was Notre Dame that came from four goals down to tie it at the end, mostly thanks to Perkovic's speedballs.
-- Denver native Ossello and Pioneer coach Tierney were the last in the handshake line to exchange greetings.
-- Said Corrigan in the locker room, "There are no great words to make this go down any easier. I've never been around a team that worked this way, acted this way and felt this way, about the chance to win a national championship from the first day of practice in the fall. I don't know how to explain to you how it didn't happen.
"It's unbelievable you could show that character in the fourth period after we were down. But you don't always get what you want. We had our chances because we made our chances.
"If you wanted to know how a team is supposed to work, act and go about its business, you got an MBA from your seniors. At Notre Dame you want to be in the room with these kind of people, to be on the field with these kind of people."
Many of the senior players spoke:
-- Henry Williams--"Someone in this room is going to win a national championship."
-- Ossello--"Love you guys, that's all I've got."
-- Team captain Doyle--"I was honored to be a part of this team. I'll never forget guys like Conor Kelly and Connor McCollough and Logan Connolly, guys who didn't get a lot of headlines, but they worked their butts off to help us get here. My older brother texted me this morning. He said, `Be strong, be accountable and never complain.'
-- Captain Marlatt--"I'm numb right now. But this was an unbelievable time."
-- Captain Jack Near--"I'd give anything for one more bite at the apple with you guys."
Added Corrigan, "Let's make sure we don't lose everything we've gained to this point. I'll put my fate in the hands of the guys in this room any day in any situation. We talked about being the best we could be. I never felt like I was part of a team that got as much out of itself as this one."
-- In the postgame press conference, Corrigan's comments were short and sweet:
"I don't think we played all that well at certain points, but we did what we needed to do to be in a one-play game. We just didn't make that play."
-- Back in the locker room, many players showered, but there was a list of others, mainly seniors like Doyle, Kelly, Near and Will Corrigan, who sat in front of their lockers, still wearing their full uniforms.
Their dream has been deferred. And it was just that close.
-- by John Heisler, senior associate athletics director