Duke comes back from early deficit to win NCAA title
In the end, Duke played for a championship like it played its entire season.
The Blue Devils struggled early, falling behind by five goals just as they had started the season with four losses in six games.
Down, though, never proved out for this Duke men’s lacrosse team.
With NCAA Tournament most outstanding player Brendan Fowler dominating face offs and a balanced offense scoring from left and right, the Blue Devils came back and overwhelmed No. 1 Syracuse 16-10 in the national championship game at Lincoln Financial Field.
“No one freaked out,” Duke senior David Lawson said. “We didn’t make any changes. We just kept doing our thing and we knew it would work.”
It’s the same approach Duke (16-5) took when it was 2-4 back in March and a national championship, to those outside of the Blue Devils locker room, seemed a distant dream.
Duke’s senior class was part of the 2010 NCAA championships, the program’s first. Having that experience meant not giving up on anything, ever.
“If you look seniors, at Jake Tripucka, David Lawson, Josh Offit, the guys that led us,” Duke junior Josh Dionne said. “If you look into their eyes, you can tell that losing isn’t an option. If you are tired they give you energy. If you are cramping, suddenly you are not cramping. I rode their wave and I couldn’t be happier.”
Syracuse scored the first five goals of the NCAA final on Monday and it certainly looked like the orange-clad fans among the crowd of 28,224 at the Philadelphia Eagles home stadium would leave happy.
Syracuse (16-4) led 4-0 after one quarter and 5-0 when Dylan Donahue scored his second goal 42 seconds into the second quarter.
Philadelphia native Jordan Wolf stemmed the Orange tide momentarily with Duke’s first goal. But the Orange struck back a little more than a minute later when Donahue assisted on Scott Loy’s goal for a 6-1 Syracuse lead.
But that marked the end of Syracuse’s fun.
“We were just waiting to get our first goal,” Lawson said. “We knew when we got that that we would get rolling.”
With Fowler controlling 14 of 15 faceoffs in second and third quarters, including 13 in a row, the Blue Devils had a prime weapon in their comeback.
“I don’t think I would want any other player at that X,” Dionne said. “To be down five and to have someone who can get you the ball virtually on demand is pretty special. We don’t take him for granted and I’m so thankful for all that he did.”
Tripucka scored an unassisted goal with 11:05 left in the first half that began Duke’s surge. The Blue Devils scored four unanswered goals to close the first half trailing 6-5.
Myles Jones, Dionne and Wolf added scores.
“The big stage, the big event got to us a little bit,” Duke coach John Danowski said. “The guys were a little tight, a little nervous. But I think at halftime, getting it back to 6-5 helped everybody. We settled down at halftime and just continued to play the game.”
Duke’s run, which saw it outscore Syracuse 12-1, continued in the second half as the Blue Devils grabbed control of the game. Lawson’s goal brought Duke even for the first time at 6-all.
Donahue scored his third goal of the game, with 4:28 left in the third quarter, giving the Orange a 7-6 lead.
But Lawson scored off a Tripucka assist to tie it again. With 2:01 left in the quarter, Offit’s unassisted goal gave Duke a lead it would never relinquish.
The Blue Devils added a man-up goal from Dionne and an even-strength goal from Offit to lead 10-7 entering the fourth quarter.
“We just couldn’t get the ball in the second half,” Syracuse coach John Desko said. “I think we had it just a handful, a few times in the third and turned it over when we did have it. Just too much to ask. It’s a powerful offensive team and to play defense so much, especially in the second half of this game, we were just asking too much of our guys.”
Duke poured it on in the fourth quarter with Dionne, Christian Walsh and Tripucka scoring goals for a 13-7 lead.
The Orange scored twice to pull within 13-9. But Wolf completed his four-goal day with back-to-back goals, the last coming with 1:55 left, as Duke refused to open the door for an Orange comeback.
Duke celebrated on its sideline over the final minute and rushed on to the field in jubilation when the game ended.
“It’s a dream come true,” Dionne said. “People say you can’t describe it and it’s true. You can’t. I’m so proud for all these seniors. I didn’t want to go out any way else.”
The seniors appreciated the effort as well, especially the heart the Blue Devils showed when things looked bleak during the season and on Monday.
“This was our goal was to go out this way,” Lawson said. “A lot of teams have that goal. But for a lot of people that’s not a tangible goal. For us it is and we made it happen.”