Every Division I lacrosse team has now played a game. This is grounds for people to play long, regal trumpets that have flags hanging from them. Or something like that. Let's get to the big stories from this weekend.
Irish to Planet Earth: "Come Get Some!"
Notre Dame looked like a title contender last week, drilling Duke in Durham while firing on all cylinders in a driving snow. This week the Irish cemented themselves as one of the favorites in 2013 -- at least in the early season -- and as a potential Philadelphia traveler: On the back of a Matt Kavanagh winner with 1:34 left in overtime after a bonkers fourth quarter, Notre Dame sashayed out of University Park with a 10-9 victory. I don't know what you come to do, but Notre Dame comes to win and win and win.
The game was far from the curb-stomping that the Irish executed last week, featuring six ties and only two occasions where a team led by two goals (an early 2-0 lead for Notre Dame and a 7-5 lead for the Nittany Lions early in the second half). The story of the game, though, is the fourth quarter; specifically, the last minute which featured three goals and a game-tying goal at the buzzer. With the Irish trailing, Conor Doyle took a pass from Ryan Foley and knotted the score at eight with just 24 seconds remaining in regulation. The game then looked like a lock for Notre Dame when Liam O'Connor rammed home an unassisted goal with just 18 seconds remaining after winning the faceoff, but Penn State would win the ensuing faceoff, get the ball to Tom LaCrosse, and Lacrosse would shuffle the bean past John Kemp to tie the score at nine with under a second left on the clock.
College lacrosse is the best, right?
The overtime period saw only three possessions: Notre Dame started with the ball on the faceoff and lost possession on an errant Liam O'Connor shot. Penn State would clear and get an attempt on cage from LaCrosse, but Kemp would make the stop, allowing Notre Dame to generate possession. Kavanagh ended up putting the knife in Penn State's eye, dumping one past Austin Kaut -- The Blonde Satan -- to give the Irish a big resume win in February.
Despite the loss, the Nittany Lions look, again, like a team that will wrestle with alligators and win more bouts than they lose. Notre Dame, similarly, has a nose for ripping out eyeballs to walk away tattered but victorious. I don't know if these are two of the best five teams in the country right now, but they could be by May.
Welcome to Division I, Marquette; Second Quarters and Halves Can Be Hard
High Point, Marquette's analogue this season, opened its existence in Division I lacrosse with a surprising victory over Towson. (Although, with the way that the Tigers played Mercer on Sunday, maybe "surprising" isn't the best word to use. More like, "okay this happened and I can pretty much understand it.") The Golden Eagles weren't as fortunate in their freshman effort in Columbus, falling to the Buckeyes, 18-8. As Ohio State has done for much of the season, the Buckeyes were somewhat slow out of the gates, holding on a one-goal lead at the end of the first quarter. Once the scoreboard started showing crooked numbers in the quarter column, though, Ohio State shook off its grogginess and administered the beating everyone expected: A seven-goal second quarter was merely preamble to a second half in which the Buckeyes would outscore Marquette, 8-3. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat: That's the sound of Ohio State's offense when it is executing fools.
Considering it's been only 800 days since Marquette announced that it was going to pursue Division I lacrosse, it wasn't all bad for the Golden Eagles. The team did well in clearing the ball, staying competitive at the dot, shot the ball fairly decently, and worked just as hard as Ohio State on pulling in ground balls. There were, of course, issues (the defense was . . . troubling against an admittedly dangerous offensive opponent). In the overall, though, the most important thing was that Marquette came out and competed this weekend, and they accomplished that if not anything else.
Mega Games the Size of Very Big Things that Probably Aren't Easy to Move
There were three games this weekend that were going to shape the national picture: North Carolina dancing with Fairfield, Lehigh taking a trip west to tangle with Denver, and Maryland taking the bus over to Ridley for a rematch of the 2012 national championship game against Loyola. The hype for all three was huge and all delivered in their special, snowflake way:
- The Tar Heels overcame a three-goal hole at the half and erased a four-goal deficit in the second half (Fairfield put together an unanswered five-goal run that spanned the second and third quarters) to drop the Stags, 10-9. Marcus Holman had the winner off of a Davey Emala assist with 5:46 remaining in regulation. The win follows a tough loss to a Will Manny-less Massachusetts squad last week and marks, for the second time this season, the Tar Heels' desire to play tight games against solid opponents that probably makes Joe Breschi's brain explode from his skull.
- Lehigh had steamrolled St. Joseph's to start the year and gutted-out a tough win against Villanova last week, but the Mountain Hawks got a nasty taste of reality at altitude in Colorado on Saturday, falling to Denver, 18-10. The Pioneers eviscerated Lehigh in the second half (the Mountain Hawks actually took a one-goal lead into the half), earning four more possessions over the Mountain Hawks and scoring on 12 of their 18 offensive opportunities over the final 30 minutes. That's not Lehigh-style lacrosse, and Denver make a solid defensive unit look fairly silly after playing square for the first two quarters. Denver looked like the team that went toe-to-toe with Duke to open the season, and the Pioneers rebounded nicely after taking it on the chin against Penn State in Jacksonville (what?) last weekend. As for the Mountain Hawks? The loss may have been more than just a one-day nightmare -- in the Sunday follow-up against Air Force, Lehigh struggled en route to a 15-10 defeat at the hands of the Falcons. Methinks that VMI is in for a nuclear beating on March 2nd.
- In number one (kind of) against number one (sort of), Maryland asserted itself as the nation's pace-setter, pulling in a big 12-10 victory over Loyola at Ridley Athletic Complex. John Haus had a flapjacks-worthy day, pumping in four goals and helping on another. The game wasn't quite as close as the final score indicates, with Maryland holding big leads throughout the day -- the Terps led 5-1 at the end of the first quarter, pushed it out to 7-3 to close the first half, and actually held two five-goal leads in the second half (10-5 and 11-6) before Loyola got hot late, scoring four of the game's last five goals. It's another impressive victory for a Maryland team that could be plastic explosives in human form. The only question about the Terps now is whether Under Armour will find a way to silhouette a panther with laser-focus onto their uniforms.
Part II is here (when published).