2012 NCAA Lacrosse Tournament: Loyola Drops Denver, Heads for First Final Four Since 1998

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Well, that happened. You can put your pants back on now, everyone.

Loyola and Denver did what Loyola and Denver do: Erase any sense of understanding you have about college lacrosse and replaces it with the question of whether you should consider your television a piece of furniture or ask it to be your best man at your wedding.

The Greyhounds and Pioneers put together another case study in insanity this afternoon at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, treating the 13,000-plus in attendance to a fourth quarter full of so many shades of fury that head explosion was a serious concern for medical professionals on site. In the end, Loyola moved away from Annapolis with a 10-9 victory -- its third over the Pios this season, two of which were decided by only a goal -- and a trip to Championship Weekend for the first time in almost a decade-and-a-half. Denver, a year removed from a trip to the Final Four, finishes the season with a 9-7 record and the best case of "Can't stop; won't stop" this side of crazy pants North Korea.

For most of the game it didn't exactly feel like the two teams would trade deathblows until someone finally bled out at the final buzzer. Loyola strongly dominated much of play throughout the first three quarters, eventually building a 10-6 lead at the 10:29 mark of the final period. Then, because Denver is built like a rodeo bull with an ax to grind because some stupid human severely broke the bull-man code with certain "restrictions" in a sensitive area, the Pioneers snapped: Henry Miketa bulleted a miracle pass to Mark Matthews who snagged the bean, turned, planted, and rifled a shot past Greyhounds goalie Jack Runkel.

It was the spark that Denver had been looking for all afternoon and with the fuse lit, the Pioneers looked like they were going to explode. About a minute after Matthews' bonkers tally, Jeremy Noble got on the board on an assist from Wes Berg to draw Denver within two at 10-8. Five minutes later, Berg bulldogged his way through the Loyola defense to rifle a shot past Runkel to close the margin to one with just under three minutes to play. That goal, however, was as close as Denver would get to Foxborough, Massachusetts.

The ending sequences to the game paint the picture of a madman on a rampage: A dodgy push violation on the Pioneers with under two minutes left in regulation killed a potential momentum-induced offensive possession for Denver; a tough save from Runkel on a Berg shot on the doorstep with 1:09 saved Loyola's goat; a boneheaded shot attempt from Davis Butts on the ensuing possession from the Hounds gave the Pios life with 24 seconds left; and a blocked Cam Flint shot ultimately ended what could have been a charmed run from Denver.

After all of this, half of Championship Weekend is set. Loyola -- a worthy participant in the national semifinals, if not a long-lost one -- will join Maryland at Gillette Stadium starting Saturday afternoon. The Greyhounds will draw either Virginia or Notre Dame in the next round. Loyola hasn't faced either potential opponent this season, so, notebooks out, people!

KEY STATISTICS

Loyola Extra-Man Conversion Rate: 40% (4-10)
Loyola Percentage of Offensive Possessions with Extra-Man: 31.25%
Eric Lusby is a Destruction Machine: 5G, 2A (50% shooting)
Denver Penalties: 10 (7:30)
Faceoffs: 17 -- Loyola; 5 -- Denver
Possession Margin: +8 (Loyola)
Turnovers: 16 -- Loyola; 6 -- Denver
Denver Unadjusted Offensive Efficiency: 37.5

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