DEVIL’S X: Faceoffs doom Syracuse as Duke beats Orange 16-10 in national championship game
PHILADELPHIA — Syracuse exposed its Achilles’ heel one too many times.
The one true weakness — faceoffs — on what was otherwise the country’s most complete team, was exploited Monday afternoon, spoiling the national championship bid on which the Orange once had a vice grip. The shortcoming-turned-open wound erased SU’s early dominance. Duke faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler’s ensuing dominance was so great, that by the time of the final whistle in the Blue Devils’ 16-10 victory, it was hard to believe the first quarter even happened.
“We knew they were going to go on a run, and just had to try and stop the bleeding,” SU defender Brian Megill said.
Only the bleeding never really stopped. Two lonely goals from Scott Loy and Dylan Donahue were mere pauses in a 13-2 Duke scoring run that coincided with a 16-2 streak at the faceoff X as the No. 7-seed Blue Devils (16-5) ran away with the national championship in front of 28,244 at Lincoln Financial Field.
By the time No. 1-seed Syracuse (16-4) turned to Megill, the sixth Orange player to take a faceoff, SU had all but bled out. When he trotted up to the X, Syracuse trailed 11-7. Ultimately, the Orange won only 9-of-30 faceoffs. The scenes like Kevin Rice high-stepping away from another Orange goal were replaced by a seemingly endless string of Duke celebrations.
“Possessions dried up,” Rice said. “And when you don’t have the ball for long stretches of time, you tend to force it.”
All season long, though, Syracuse covered up its faceoff struggles with two equalizers. The first was the Orange’s compact, harassing defense that put balls and opposing bodies on the ground and sent Syracuse sweeping the other way.
The second was the flowing yet calculated Syracuse offense that always seemed to know just how many passes it took to score. When SU had a 40-percent foothold in faceoffs in the first quarter, the Orange led 4-0. Syracuse only needed a little help from the X.
But for too long, it got none. Orange defenders had to chase longer and harder than ever as SU attacks watched perhaps the only offense that could match its own efficiency.
“We were just asking too much of our guys,” SU head coach John Desko said.
Still, if any team, anywhere in the country was going to come back from six goals down with 10 minutes to play, it was Syracuse on this stage. SU was 5-1 this year when trailing going into the fourth quarter. If any two men were going to lead that last stand, it was seniors Megill and JoJo Marasco.
Marasco froze behind the goal with 8:17 to play. He darted right past Luke Duprey. Rounding the cage Duprey barreled him airborne. Marasco couldn’t see the net as he flung a shot over his left shoulder. But when he rolled to his feet, the ball had nestled in the upper-right corner of the goal. SU trailed by five, but Marasco could feel the season-long magic returning.
“Yeah, definitely,” Marasco said. “… got those two quick ones in pretty fast and we started rolling, got the ball again, and it just didn’t go our way.”
Megill was doing what no one had done since the sun was brighter, Orange fans were louder and Syracuse led 5-0 – win faceoffs against Fowler.
After Marasco’s wonder goal, Megill manhandled the Duke faceoff specialist, leaving Fowler to fruitlessly clatter against his back, trying to knock Megill’s 220 pounds out of perfect ground-ball positioning.
With the two seniors turning in heroic career-ending performances, Syracuse had hope. A frantic finish was a certainty. A win was a greater possibility than it should have been.
But mere seconds after Steve Ianzito sprinted away with the Orange possession Megill had won, the whistle blew. The anxious roars of the crowd were sucked out of the stadium in one collective gasp. Megill’s ever-bandaged left knee collapsed. And with it, so too did SU’s title hopes.
Desko joined the three medical staff members attending to Megill, holding his captain’s stick while the defender clutched at his own knee.
“My worst fear is that he would have seriously hurt his knee, especially in his last game,” Desko said. “But fortunately he got back out there and was able to contribute a little bit more.”
After Megill hobbled off, Marasco acrobatically finished again to bring SU within four. But his goal only brought the Orange back to the very place where it had been losing the game all day long.
One of Fowler’s earlier consistent victims, Matt Harris, won a draw to Ianzito, but his hurried pass to Rice was intercepted. Two goals, six minutes and the expiration of Syracuse’s season later, Megill returned to the X.
But it was to play out the final two minutes of his Orange career, not to win SU’s 12th national title.
“We’ve got to try and back up our faceoff group and get our offense the ball because we know their offense is deadly with it,” Megill said, “and we just couldn’t do it today.
“We’ve been battling that game all year long.”
Published on May 27, 2013 at 3:41 pm
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