FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When Maryland men’s lacrosse midfielder Tim Rotanz lobbed a shot into an empty net with 59 seconds remaining, he turned to the bench and thrust his arms into the air. His teammates leapt up and down on the sideline, celebrating the finish that put the Terps out of reach from Ohio State.
At the final whistle, the players rushed to goalkeeper Dan Morris, tossing sticks, gloves and helmets into the sky. Behind them, the demons of a 42-year championship drought withered away.
Through bench production and a stout defensive effort, Maryland withstood a late rally to beat the Buckeyes, 9-6, and win its first NCAA title since 1975. The Terps lost in the national championship the past two seasons.
“That was definitely one of the happiest moments of my life,” Morris said. “Having your best friends, your brothers on the team who you’ve been working hard with the whole year running at you, and you know that you just won the championship, is unreal.”
Entering the year, coach John Tillman said his second midfield needed to improve before postseason play. In the Terps’ three losses, the unit didn’t record a point.
But against Ohio State, backup midfielder Adam DiMillo, who had scored just three times in 56 career games, delivered a pair of crucial strikes to propel the Terps to victory.
“Adam does a lot for us,” Morris said. “He plays offense, defense and on the wings. He really did step up on the biggest stage.”
In the early going, the Terps struggled to string together crisp passes. Midfielder Connor Kelly and attackman Matt Rambo committed turnovers in the first seven minutes, and Ohio State took a 2-1 lead about 10 minutes into the frame.
Then, DiMillo turned the tide.
With Ohio State’s attention fixed on Rambo and attackman Dylan Maltz in front of the crease, he snaked down the left wing to tie the contest with an unassisted goal to the near-post.
DiMillo added another score in the second quarter, converting a feed from Rambo after the Buckeyes double teamed the Tewaaraton Award finalist while he tried to make a move toward the net. The finish gave the Terps a 5-2 advantage.
Moments later, following a pushing penalty on Ohio State midfielder JT Blubaugh, fellow second line midfielder Nick Manis looked up at the crowd as he approached the sideline and waved his arms to energize the fans stationed behind the Terps’ bench.
“Having [the second line midfield] go out there and be aggressive,” attackman Colin Heacock said, “they really … helped us a lot.”
While Tillman’s squad, boosted by the backup group, found its rhythm at the offensive end, the defense limited the Buckeyes.
After giving up two goals in the first 10 minutes, Maryland didn’t concede another for the next 24. During that span, Morris made seven saves.
“We don’t go out there and try to make plays happen,” defender Tim Muller said. “Guys like [long pole] Nick Brozowski had a great game. He had a lot of ground balls and he had some caused turnovers. [Defenders] Curtis Corley and Bryce Young, they all played fundamental defense. They didn’t try to do anything special.”
Early in the fourth, Rambo scored a diving effort to give the Terps a commanding 8-3 lead. After the program’s all-time points and goals leader got to his feet, Heacock lifted him off the ground with a hug.
But Ohio State roared back with three unanswered goals, igniting memories of the 2016 title game when Maryland squandered a late 13-11 advantage to North Carolina before falling in overtime.
This time, though, the Terps held on.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” Manis said. “We were all smiling at each other like this is where we’ve been. This is where we want to be. We always pride ourselves on defense at Maryland, and we really wouldn’t want it any other way.”