Navy 6, Cornell 5
The Navy men's lacrosse team took the field for its NCAA tournament quarterfinal against Cornell on Sunday walking behind a Marine carrying an American flag that had flown over a military base in Afghanistan.
A few yards away, the Big Red gathered around a memorial for a pregame prayer for a teammate who died in a game earlier this year.
With both teams seemingly playing for more than just a berth in the sport's final four, Navy emerged with a 6-5 victory before 11,480 at Schoellkopf Field.
The Midshipmen (14-2) advanced to the final four for the first time since 1981. They will play No. 6 Princeton (10-4) on Saturday in Baltimore despite scoring a season low in goals.
"We're very honored to win this game," Navy Coach Richie Meade said. "Cornell played about as hard as we thought they would; they were as advertised. . . . We know a lot of people in harm's way. A lot of them never got to the final four."
Navy did not put the Big Red away until the final minute. The Midshipmen led 6-4 after a goal on a 12-yard shot by junior Graham Gill with 7 minutes 17 seconds left.
Cornell closed to 6-5 after a score by Andrew Collins with 1:57 left. The Midshipmen were called for being offside, but junior Dan Harris forced a turnover with 50 seconds left.
Cornell had one last chance, when it forced a loose ball near Navy's sideline with 30 seconds left. But sophomore Steve Looney emerged with the ball from a scrum of players, drew a penalty, and the Midshipmen had their victory.
Gill and sophomore Ian Dingman each had two goals. Sean Greenhalgh and Collins had two goals, and Matt McMonagle had 14 saves for Cornell.
There was a bit of gamesmanship before the contest. Cornell normally plays the Canadian national anthem before home games because three of its players are from there. As the higher seed, Meade asked that only the national anthem be played.
The American flag was sent to Meade by a former player who currently is a Navy SEAL stationed in Afghanistan. The flag had been dedicated to Navy's successful season.
Cornell had dedicated its season to senior defender George Boiardi, a Landon graduate who died during a game on March 17. Cornell put his jersey number "21" on the turf behind one of the goals. The team huddled around it for a pregame prayer.
Several dozen fans sat behind Cornell's bench and wore red T-shirts with the number 21 on them. Boiardi's mother and sister attended the game; his father also was expected, though his flight was delayed.
After the postgame handshake, the Big Red gathered for one last huddle before turning and raising their helmets in unison toward their fans.
"It's going to be hard to let this go," senior defender Tim DeBlois said. "We've been a support group for each other through the season. . . . I didn't want to see this end."
The Midshipmen, meantime, get to play at least one more game.
"I saw the ball bouncing around, and I was about to run back on defense when I realized it looked like no one was going to get it," Looney said of the clinching ground ball. "I decided I would."