FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — There are countless differences between the Maryland men’s lacrosse teams of this year and last year. One crucial similarity: Each reached the NCAA title game.
On Saturday, unseeded Maryland advanced to the national championship for the second straight year following a 16-10 victory over No. 3 Duke before 31,774 at Gillette Stadium. Maryland will face No. 1 Loyola (Md.) in the title game on Monday at 1 p.m.
The Terrapins (12-5) have another chance for their first national title since 1975. Last year, Maryland lost in the title game to Virginia, 9-7.
Seventeen seniors, 22 overall players and five starters from last year’s team are not around this season. Yet Maryland is back in the championship following a dominating performance against the Blue Devils (15-5).
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t cross our mind,” said Maryland junior Jesse Bernhardt, a longstick midfielder, of winning a national title. “It’s always the goal at the beginning of the year. It’s a dream come true. We were here last year and it didn’t end the way we would have liked.”
Against Duke, all three starting attackmen scored at least one goal for Maryland, as did all three starting midfielders. And there were two impressive performances from reserve midfielders: Junior Kevin Cooper had a goal and four assists and freshman Kevin Forster added two goals and an assist.
The defense wasn’t overlooked either. Duke’s Achilles’ heel all season has been its extra-man offense. In lacrosse, converting on 40 percent or more on extra-man chances is attainable. Duke entered Saturday having converted on 22.5 percent (16 of 71).
That weakness was exploited. With 13 seconds left in the first half, Maryland fifth-year senior Drew Snider scored for a 7-4 lead. On the ensuing faceoff, however, Bernhardt was called for tripping with 1.6 seconds left.
The Blue Devils had 15 minutes of halftime to consider what play to run with Maryland’s best defender out of the game. (Bernhardt on Thursday was named a second-team all-American longstick midfielder.)
They settled on a play for senior midfielder Rob Rotanz. It made sense for two reasons. Rotanz, a first-team all-American, entered Saturday with 38 goals. And he had scored none on 12 shots in the first two meetings against the Terrapins, games in which he was defended mostly by Bernhardt.
With Bernhardt serving the one-minute penalty, Duke had the look it wanted — Rotanz took an open shot from 12 yards. The shot was saved by sophomore goalie Niko Amato.
The extra-man offense had other chances, for better or worse. In the third quarter the Terrapins were called for pushing, holding, pushing, slashing and offside. The Blue Devils scored on none.
The unit finished 1 for 6; the lone goal came with 1 minute 27 seconds remaining.
“It wasn’t good,” Duke Coach John Danowski said of the extra-man offense. “We were very tentative, we seemed to play scared. I cant explain it, I wish I could. But [Maryland] played great.”
Maryland freshman defenseman Goran Murray also did another gem of a job on sophomore Jordan Wolf, Duke’s leading scorer.
Wolf finished with two assists. In three meetings against Maryland this year, all while guarded by Murray, Wolf did not score a goal. Wolf has not scored a goal against Maryland since he scored the winner in overtime in March 2011, a span of five games and 300 minutes.
Rotanz and senior Justin Turri finished with two goals for Duke.
Snider finished with four goals for the Terrapins, giving him 10 in the playoffs.
“I think he’s been opportunistic” in the playoffs, Maryland Coach John Tillman said of Snider. “It’s not like he brings it down and shoots it. . . . And the man-down defense was critical.”
Maryland advanced to the title game last year with a 9-4 semifinal win over Duke. The Terrapins used a physical approach and the swell of emotion from the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore to unsettled the Blue Devils.
On Saturday, the victory was far more precise: Maryland went 16 for 29 shooting (55 percent).
And on Monday, Maryland has a chance at its first national title since 1975.
“I’m excited for our players,” Tillman said. “And our school, our state and our alums.”