The Maryland lacrosse team punched their ticket to the National Championship game with a heart-pounding 15-14 overtime victory over Brown on Saturday.
Time seemed to stand still as Matt Rambo found fellow attackman Colin Heacock all alone in front. Fortunately for the Terrapins, Heacock was able to fake out First Team All-American goalie Jack Kelly to win the game.
This is the third time in the last five years that Maryland will be in the national title game under coach John Tillman. The Terps fell to 9-3 at the hands of Loyola (Md.) in 2012 and 10-5 against Denver in 2015.
This is an interesting matchup because many didn’t expect either team to be playing on Memorial Day. Maryland got off to a 1-2 start and only scored nine combined goals in losses to Notre Dame and Yale.
On the other hand, North Carolina started off with a 3-3 mark, which included losses to Hofstra and Massachusetts. After losing firepower from last year’s team in Jimmy Bitter and Joey Sankey, the question marks began to run rampant.
Maryland ended up winning their next 16 games to find their way to the national title game while North Carolina has won four of their last five games, including beat three very good teams in the NCAA Tournament in Loyola (Md.), Marquette, and Notre Dame.
Battle at the “X”
This is where the game could be won or lost. Maryland and North Carolina are very identical in this category with a pair of absolute warriors at the “X” in Austin Henningsen and Stephen Kelly.
In the Tar Heels win over the Greyhounds on Saturday, Kelly was victorious in 19 of his 35 draws and drew the praise of his coach Joe Breschi. Henningsen didn’t have his best outing as he only won 7-of-23 face-offs and Maryland lost the battle 20-12 against Brown.
Back in March when these two teams faced off, North Carolina won 13 of the 23 face-offs and all 13 came courtesy of Kelly. Henningsen won nine of the draws for the Terps. Maryland also was able to win five of the first six face-offs.
These are two of the more underrated face-off specialists in the nation. These two have the ability to control this game and it’ll be interesting to see if the experience of Kelly comes to the forefront or if Henningsen can gain the upper hand.
Maryland has had plenty of offensive firepower in recent years. However, this 2016 group is arguably the deepest that Tillman has ever had in College Park.
Obviously, Heacock and Rambo lead the way and we could talk about their talent all day. After that, the Terps have a trio of transfers that can score with just about anybody. Dylan Maltz, Henry West, and Pat Young are as offensively gifted as you’ll find.
All three have at least 15 goals with Maltz leading the way with 27 on the season. Teams are going to try to double and use the slide to try and slow down Heacock and Rambo, but that leaves guys like this wide-open.
It’s been heavily publicized about the progression of Rambo and how lethal he can be as a passer. However, Bryan Cole is tied with Rambo in assists (29). The Canadian superstar is extremely patient and has the ability to find his teammates on a rope.
Cole’s vision is unparalleled and he’s just a magician when he has the ball cradled in his stick. However, he also can score with just about anybody. If he has the chance to take his shot, he rarely misses as we’ve seen throughout the season.
However, the Tar Heels are just as dangerous.
North Carolina has a trio of attackmen that can do a ton of damage in Chris Cloutier, Luke Goldstock, and Steve Pontrello. Cloutier tallied a mind-numbing nine goals against Loyola on Saturday and just couldn’t seem to miss.
Pontrello leads the team with 47 goals and can score from just about anywhere. However, when the Tar Heels set picks for him, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a defense that can deny Pontrello from getting in front of the cage and scoring.
This is going to be a battle between a pair of teams that can flat-out score. It’s all going to come down to the defense that can make the key stops down the stretch and limit the scoring chances.
This is where Maryland holds the true advantage over nearly every team that they’ve faced in 2016.
Goalie Kyle Bernlohr is a phenomenal specimen in the cage. Coming into Monday’s national title game, Bernlohr owns a 7.96 goals-against average, which is good for eighth in the nation.
Bernlohr is absolutely stoic in the cage and nothing seems to rattle him. The Ohio native has only surrendered double-digit goals in three games this season (Brown, High Point, and Penn State) and the Terps were still able to win all three of those contests.
Bernlohr has never been afraid of the big stage. Many will always remember the butt-end of his stick save against Johns Hopkins in the 2015 national semifinals.
This is a guy that isn’t afraid to gamble and make a huge stop. If Bernlohr can make a few highlight reel saves, Maryland could be winning their first National Championship since 1975.