The 2014 NCAA men's lacrosse championship came down to a matchup between two ACC teams, with Duke looking for redemption and Notre Dame hoping to run the table after claiming the conference championship.
The No. 1 Blue Devils got the restitution they were searching for with an 11-9 win over the No. 6 Fighting Irish to secure their second consecutive NCAA championship. Duke's official Instagram account provided a look at the final scene:
Duke completed the turnaround following its poor showing in the ACC tournament thanks to suffocating defense and enough offensive production to earn the victory.
John Danowski, Duke's head coach, spoke about what his team needed to do to stop the Fighting Irish, per Laura Keeley of the News & Observer (subscription required):
You can't let their team run. You want to get in the hole and defend what we call in the box as opposed to letting them run half field, whether that's from the defensive end out or off the face‑offs or in any kind of scramble situations. ...
... Defensively they seem to be a little more aggressive, checking, and they seem to be a little more active with their sticks. They want to get the ball to the ground, they want to be able to push and play in transition.
Needless to say, the focal point was limiting the Notre Dame offense. That's exactly what the defending champs did during the first quarter.
Early on, Duke swarmed Notre Dame's attackers, and goalie Luke Aaron made several impressive saves to shut the Fighting Irish out in the first quarter. Duke men's lacrosse and Stephen Wiseman of The Herald-Sun pointed out the defensive performance:
Though the Fighting Irish certainly wanted to get off to a better start, it wasn't necessarily bad news. Patrick Stevens of Syracuse.com noted what happened for the last two teams that were shut out in the first frame:
Meanwhile, the Blue Devils got off to a good start offensively, notching goals from Deemer Class and Christian Walsh to take a 2-0 lead into the second quarter. Duke punched in yet another goal from Myles Jones to move to 3-0 before Notre Dame finally broke through offensively.
As he has all season, Matt Kavanagh fired yet another impressive shot to put Notre Dame on the board. Kavanagh led the Irish in the NCAA semifinal with five goals to carry them past Maryland.
That goal would be it for the Fighting Irish in the half, as the Blue Devils scored another two goals to take a 5-1 lead heading into halftime. Aaron was not only impressive in goal, but also contributed in other ways:
One of the biggest reasons for Notre Dame's struggles was sloppy play and disruption by the Duke defense early on. Stevens pointed to Notre Dame's struggles in the possession game:
ESPNU provided a look at first-half stats for both sides:
The train continued to roll for the Blue Devils at the start of the second half, as Kyle Keenan scored just 17 seconds into the third frame. Duke cashed in on a man advantage after Notre Dame was penalized late in the first half.
After Notre Dame scored its second goal of the match, Duke once again responded with a Thomas Zenker shot that found of the back of the net. NCAA Lax provided a look at the excitement on the field following the goal:
While Zenker got credit for the goal, it was a memorable assist for senior Jordan Wolf. Stevens noted the historic significance of the point for Wolf:
Duke took an 8-4 advantage into the fourth. Notre Dame tallied two goals late in the third but was unable to narrow the margin from the first half.
The Fighting Irish finally pulled to within three goals for the first time since the middle of the second quarter when Kavanagh scored on a spectacular ground-ball attempt. Chris Rosenthall of Lacrosse All Stars noted the goal tied a Notre Dame record for the sensational sophomore:
Sergio Perkovic followed Kavanagh's goal with his third tally of the day, narrowing the deficit to two.
After four consecutive goals by Notre Dame, Wolf tickled the twine on his 63rd goal of the season. Wiseman provided a breakdown of the goal by Wolf:
But the Fighting Irish would not be denied, as John Scioscia shredded the Duke defense for a goal just five seconds after the following faceoff. Scioscia's goal narrowed the margin to 9-7, and Perkovic scored once again to make it a one-goal deficit with five minutes remaining.
Keeley gave a backdrop for just how monumental the comeback was for Notre Dame:
Another point from Duke followed, with Keenan notching his second goal of the game to reclaim the two-goal lead. Not only was the goal a crucial one for Duke's offense, but it also forced Notre Dame to take a timeout to regroup.
Duke's Instagram account showed the reaction from the team following Keenan's shot late in the game:
Perkovic once again found the back of the net with 49 seconds remaining, but it wasn't enough as time ran out on the Fighting Irish. The goal capped an enormous performance from the freshman, who scored five goals in the biggest game of his young career.
Wolf broke away from the Notre Dame defense to finish with an open-netter and score the 303rd point of his illustrious career. It was a proper close for Wolf and sealed Player of the Game honors for the senior, per Duke:
Following their third national title in the last five seasons, the Blue Devils once again have a team that can compete for a championship next year. The team will lose seniors Wolf and Walsh but retain standouts Aaron, Keenan, Class and Jones for another title run.
As for the Fighting Irish, Kavanagh comes back with hopes to try for another ACC championship and potentially attempt a run at the NCAA title. Though the offense was noticeably shaken against Duke, the team has the firepower to return next season.
No matter where each program eventually winds up at the end of next year, the matchup between the two teams should be exciting to watch. After an all-ACC showdown in this year's championship, the conference might come down to the two storied programs again next season.
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