PHILADELPHIA — The final faceoff in Duke’s 16-10 victory over Syracuse in the NCAA men’s lacrosse title game before 28,244 at Lincoln Financial Field on Monday was notable for two reasons. One, Duke lost the faceoff. And two, it was the only one in the second half not taken by Duke junior Brendan Fowler.
By then, Fowler’s day was done. Against the top-seeded Orange, Fowler won 20 of 28 faceoffs to give the Blue Devils their second NCAA title.
In one stretch in the second and third quarters, Fowler won 13 in a row. So for the final draw, Fowler stayed on the sideline and, as play began, Coach John Danowski draped an arm around Fowler’s shoulder and smiled.
Fowler’s work clearly frustrated the Orange (16-4). In a 16-minute 37-second stretch of the second and third quarters, the faceoff losses meant the Orange took only one shot. It was a goal.
By the game’s end, the Orange tried six players against Fowler head-to-head.
“When you lost faceoffs like we were and they score, get the ball back, they score, get the ball back, it’s tough,” said Syracuse senior Brian Megill, a first-team all-American defender. “It takes a toll on your body, especially when you’re playing as much defense as we did in the third quarter.”
Fowler’s performance was such that it caused Syracuse to try something unique. Teams are allowed four longstick defenders; and starting with a faceoff midway through the fourth quarter, the Orange used three longsticks for faceoffs — one to take the draw and the other two as the wings.
Syracuse Coach John Desko said he had not tried that tactic in his 15 years.
“We had to pull out all the stops,” Desko said. “They were so dominant on faceoffs, we had to try anything we could.”
Fowler wasn’t the only weapon for Duke (16-5). Junior Jordan Wolf had four goals and two assists and senior Josh Offit added three goals and two assists.
But it was Fowler who was named the tournament’s most outstanding player, the second player since the award began in 1977 to win it while taking faceoffs.
“Once I cooled down a little and stuck to what I do every day, I got into a groove there and just felt pretty good going out there every time,” Fowler said.
Syracuse was the top seed but it had shown a penchant all season to lose faceoffs. Among its performances was a 2-for-24 showing against Villanova; 5 for 17 against Yale; 5 for 21 against Virginia; and 1 for 23 against Bryant.
Each time, the Orange had overcome the discrepancy and played well. It went 7-3 in one-goal games, including a 7-6 win over Yale in the quarterfinals and a 9-8 win over Denver in the semifinals on Saturday.
But Syracuse won those games with timely offense. On Monday, no such offense arrived because the Orange didn’t have the ball. Particularly painful was junior Derek Maltz being held to no points and only one shot by senior Billy Conners. Maltz had scored the winning goal with 19 seconds left against Denver.
Initially on Monday, things started well for Syracuse. The Orange jumped to a 5-0 lead on a goal by redshirt freshman Dylan Donahue early in the second quarter. To that point, Fowler had won three of five faceoffs and also was called for a one-minute penalty for handling the ball.
Yet once he got going, his teammates followed. Fowler finished the season with 339 faceoff wins, an NCAA record. His 209 groundballs were the second-most in NCAA history.
Fowler also is a reserve special teams player for the school’s football team and thus missed the lacrosse team’s fall workouts. He didn’t play lacrosse this past summer after he sustained a broken collarbone in the 2012 NCAA tournament.
Fowler’s football background means it may not be the last time he plays in an NFL stadium. But it’s unlikely he will have as much success as he had this weekend.
“I think we would say every week, maybe this is the week that Brendan doesn’t win 65 percent of his faceoffs,” Danowski said. “Maybe this is the week that we have to be ready for that. . . . But that day almost never came.”