FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The reality of the Maryland men’s lacrosse team’s first national championship since 1975 had not hit John Tillman yet, so the Terrapins’ head coach did the only sensible thing he could think of as the final seconds of Monday’s 9-6 victory over Ohio State ticked down. He hugged everyone he could. Tillman stayed behind on the sideline as his players threw their sticks and helmets into the air, releasing 42 years’ worth of weight and pressure, thanking everyone he could for sticking with a program that had been snake bitten for nearly four decades.
“This program means so much, and you are motivated to work hard because you know when you win, it makes some people happy,” Tillman said. “When you win a championship, no one has to talk about it anymore.”
Wearing simple white uniforms with red block letters and numbers, the kind of old school threads that the program’s last championship team wore, the Terrapins stayed on the turf as long as they could to soak up their most important win in more than four decades, which came after losses in the national championship game in each of the previous two seasons.
The Terrapins’ win marked a sweep for the school — the Maryland women’s lacrosse team won a national championship on Sunday, clinching their third title in four seasons. But while that group added another chapter to a dynasty, the men were just looking for a breakthrough on Monday. After losing in nine national championship game appearances since 1975, including in the previous two seasons to Denver and North Carolina, respectively, the Terrapins (16-3) played as if there were no other option against a budding Big Ten rival.
“We didn’t see any other option, of any other outcome,” senior midfielder Nick Manis said. “We believed we were going to get this moment.”
A loss to the Buckeyes (16-5), who were making their first title game appearance, would have simply been devastating. Junior midfielder Tim Rotanz scored three goals and senior attack Dylan Maltz added two for the Terrapins, who used suffocating defense to cause two Ohio State scoring droughts that lasted more than a quarter.
After both teams split a pair of one-goal wins in two meetings earlier this season, Monday’s rubber match marked the first time in NCAA tournament history that two teams were playing each other for a third time in a season in the national championship game. And while it lived up to its billing as a chippy, physical affair, it was clear for most of the day that Maryland was the more polished team.
Maryland had to overcome some early miscues, falling into a 2-1 hole after being largely outplayed by the Buckeyes through the first eight minutes of the game. But from that point on, the Terrapins tightened the screws defensively and harassed Ohio State’s scorers at every turn. On the other end, Maryland found mismatches against the Buckeyes’ short sticks on three different possessions in the first quarter, using goals from Rotanz, Adam DiMillo and Connor Kelly to take a 3-2 lead.
Maltz also scored against an Ohio State short stick early in the second quarter, and DiMillo followed up with his second goal off an assist from Matt Rambo that pushed the lead to 5-2 with 9:43 remaining in the first half.
After Ohio State trimmed the deficit to 5-3 early in the third quarter, Rambo had a look at a wide open net on the ensuing possession but his shot sailed high. Rotanz scored his second goal of the day off a backdoor cut, finishing off a feed from Maltz to make it 6-3 with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
Rambo, who broke the school’s all-time goal record with a score in Saturday’s semifinal victory over Denver, had a chance to push the lead to four goals late in the third quarter, but his shot hit the pipe. But the Terrapins didn’t need their star to put up gaudy numbers on Monday.
“Especially on the offensive end, they’re extremely balanced,” Ohio State Coach Nick Myers said.
After trailing 8-3, Ohio State pulled within 8-5 after freshman Tre Leclaire beat Maryland goalie Dan Morris low with five minutes remaining. Ohio State senior Johnny Pearson, who like Leclaire hails from British Columbia, pulled the Buckeyes within two goals with another goal with 2:25 left.
But after Ohio State retained possession on the ensuing faceoff and had a chance to pull within one, Morris came up with a crucial save on a laser of a shot by Leclaire.
“We don’t try to go out there and make plays happen,” senior defender Tim Muller said. “They just happen if we play fundamental defense.”
After it was over, Rotanz lost himself in a celebratory mosh pit in the south end zone. Senior Isaiah Davis-Allen saw tears streaming down senior attackman Colin Heacock’s face. Both Heacock and Rambo reminded Tillman of a bet the coach made with them if they won the title: that he would get some sort of tattoo. After two years of enduring the pain of losing in the title game on Memorial Day, Tillman could finally loosen up, even if this historic win hadn’t settled in yet.
“To be at a storied place like Maryland,” Tillman said, “I thank my lucky stars every day.”