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What If?: Alternate Realities For Some of Lacrosse’s Most Memorable Games

“18 seconds to go, up the near sideline, Moyer being whacked at by Nims, ball’s on the ground! Moyer picks it back up, he finds Seibald cutting across the middle who will run this clock all the way down to zero. The Cornell Big Red are your 2009 National Champions!”

Now, we all know this is not how that the final call of that year’s National Championship game really went…but what if it did? What if Cornell was actually able to clear the ball? What if C.J. Costabile didn’t win that face-off in overtime against Notre Dame a year later? These games would obviously still be thrillers, but maybe the outcomes are different with just the slightest changes.

Due to the fact that we don’t have lacrosse for the foreseeable future, let’s take a look back on some of these greatest games in recent memory and have a little fun with alternate scenarios.

Cornell vs. Syracuse – 2009 National Championship

We’ll start with arguably the craziest ending there has ever been to a lacrosse season at the Division 1 level. I had the privilege of being at this game. To this day, it is the most exciting sporting event I have ever witnessed.

Cornell’s team was absolutely loaded – highlighted by Rob Pannell and Max Seibald. Syracuse was looking to win a National Championship at Gillette Stadium for the second year in a row.

For those that don’t remember the finer details of the last 20 seconds of that 2009 game, here’s a look:

Quick shoutout to Kenny Nims for hustling to knock the ball loose and then ultimately putting home the game-tying goal. He set the example for young attackmen like me to go out there and do the exact same thing give the d-pole a strong slap-check on his bottom hand as he breezes right by me up the sideline. 

Now for the fun part. Let’s say Nims mails it in and doesn’t stick with the play, or Matt Moyer launches a Gilman in the area of Pannell as he waits behind GLE. If the ball goes out-of-bounds, Syracuse would have possession with roughly 14 seconds on the clock. Is that enough time to get to the other end of the field and score? It’s certainly not enough time to set up a six-on-six, so you’re praying for a transition finish.

Based on how the Orange moved the ball in those last few seconds, magically finding the pockets of their teammates, I’m inclined to think they would be able to do it again after executing a quick clear. Do not forget that they were there just a year prior. The moment wasn’t too big for them. They were calm under pressure and it showed.

I think the only way Cornell wins this game is if Moyer finds a streaking Max Seibald down the middle, or an attackman deep down the field. Seibald has the makeup of that football player in high school that decided to give lacrosse a try because it was his senior year and he still wanted to knock the crap out of kids. That, plus phenomenal ball handling, shooting, and passing skills. You try telling me that guy’s going to lose the ball with the National Championship on the line. I would sooner believe a hot dog is a sandwich.

Likely result: Syracuse still wins

Albany vs. Notre Dame – 2014 National Quarterfinals

This was a game that showed exactly how exciting this sport can be. There were punches, counter punches, and we came so close to a blowout.

The highlights:

This game even had a classic “That’s why they call it execution!” from Eamon, so that’s how you know it was special.

This showdown was as back-and-forth as you could get until Albany and the Thompson trio (playing in there final game together) decided to take over. Building their lead up to five at one point, it looked like this game was about to get the “It’s Over” Vince Carter gif.

Then came the turning point. Conor Doyle makes his move from X and fires a shot. The shot, however, is deflected. It’s deflected right to Doyle’s teammate, Nick Ossello, who then puts it home with an absolute rip. This goal stopped the devastating Albany run and let the Irish catch their breath for a moment. But…what if that ball deflects elsewhere? What if it finds a purple jersey and we’re off and running the other way?

Here is a look at what the field positioning looked like when Doyle took his shot:

Screen Shot 2020-04-14 at 10.05.37 PM

I count seven Great Danes (including Riorden in net) to just two Irish that would have a realistic shot at picking up a GB in that area. Yet, the ball perfectly directs to Ossello, who utilizes the ol’ turn-and-shoot (despite having enough time to bake a couple trays of cookies before he gets pressured) and brings ND within four.

Let’s say that the ball plays the numbers game and finds a Great Dane and Albany is off and running. If I were a betting man, I’d say the ball is bound to find its way to a Thompson’s stick and the back of the net shortly thereafter. The evidence for such a claim is that the trio had already registered eight goals by that point and were red-hot. This “goal” would have put the ND deficit at six and most likely broken the back of the Fighting Irish.

Even if the Danes don’t score on that possession, it’s safe to assume they eat some clock and Notre Dame is now trying to climb out of a five goal hole with right around six minutes and change left to play. That’s a steep, steep hill that I don’t see the Irish climbing based on the three-headed monster wearing purple jerseys down the other end.

Likely result: Albany wins

Maryland vs. Denver – 2017 National Semifinal

It’s better to refer to this one as the “Crease Dive Resurrection” game. To refresh everyone’s memory:

If this game was played post-2018, both of those goals would have counted. Sad!

First of all, those are some incredible finishes from Colin Heacock and Connor Donahue (who was playing in front of a hometown crowd). The NCAA rules committee, in charge of determining whether or not to bring back the crease dive, probably pointed to these two goals before any others when making their decision the next year.

In terms of alternate finishes, this one is a little trickier. If both goals had counted, Donahue’s tally would only have put the Pios within one, and the Terps are still advancing to the championship game. It’s safe to assume that, in that scenario, Denver doesn’t bleed the clock down to 13 seconds before attacking the net. So, for argument’s sake, let’s say Denver wins the ensuing face-off following Heacock’s goal. This isn’t all that far-fetched considering their FOGO was a guy by the name of Trevor Baptiste. Decent player.

Denver now has the ball, down two, with 1:25 remaining in the game. Bill Tierney’s squad has more than enough time to make something happen. Ethan Walker has a couple goals at this point in the game, and in this completely made up scenario I like him completing the hat trick. The Pioneers are within one.

Now if Donahue scores his acrobatic goal with time expiring to push the contest to overtime you’re looking at one of the most exciting goals in the history of the sport. Seems like something Mikey Powell would pull off for Syracuse back in the day.

Cheat code.

Shifting back to the game in discussion, the Pios would obviously still have to score one more goal in overtime to advance to the championship. Ultimately, it’s hard to see that happening considering neither team had scored three in a row throughout the entire game. It would have been an incredible finish to push it to OT, but I think the Terps were destined to send Matt Rambo off with a title.

Likely result: Maryland still wins

Duke vs. Notre Dame – 2010 National Championship Game

We conclude with the game that put C.J. Costabile in the history books. Just five seconds into overtime, the sophomore long pole won the biggest face-off of his life, scampered down Main Street, and uncorked the shot that gave Duke their first National Championship Title in the school’s history.

You have to feel for the Notre Dame defense here. A nightmare scenario where if you slide, you know Duke is going tic-tac-toe on the fast break, and if you don’t you’re hanging your goalie out to dry.

Up until this point, this game was a stalemate. Both defenses and goalies were playing exceptionally well, and the result was a 5-5 tie heading into OT. Obviously, every lacrosse fan that got to witness this goal will have it in their memory for quite some time. It put a cap on an incredible season for the Blue Devils as they looked to put the previous few years, and all the hate that came with them, in the rear view mirror.

However, as you hopefully know by now, the point of this blog is not to talk about how great the endings were, but to pretend they never even happened. So, let’s say Costabile doesn’t win the face-off outright and have a clean lane down the middle of the field. Even if there’s a few seconds of struggle at the face-off dot against Trever Sipperly, the middies crashing in have time to get on top of the play.

If Duke ultimately wins possession, ND still has every reason to feel confident. As I mentioned earlier, the tournament’s most outstanding player, Scotty Rodgers, had been a brick wall in net throughout that game, and the Irish had played strong defense in a six-on-six setting. It is certainly not out of the question to say that ND gets a stop and now has possession going the other way.

While the overtime period might have mirrored the first 60 minutes’ back-and-forth look, I have a tough time believing Duke’s senior class would be withheld from a title once again. They stuck with the program through heavy adversity and uncertainty, and they desperately wanted to finally win the big one. Not to mention, this team was absolutely loaded with household lacrosse names. To list a few: Max Quinzani, Justin Turri, CJ Costabile, and Ned Crotty. There’s no stopping that train.

Likely result: Duke still wins

Thank you to those of you who have made it this far in the blog. I figure during a quarantine there’s not a whole lot to do, so why not dive in? Have another game in mind that deserves an alternate ending? Drop a comment. Otherwise, stay healthy and hopefully we’ll have some lacrosse back in our lives before we know it.


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