Finn McCullough knew it was his turn to step up.
With two key offensive players, who scored 33 goals between them during the regular season, out of Saturday night’s first-round NCAA tournament game between Army and defending champion Maryland, McCullough, a seldom-used Army attacker with just four goals on the season, knew that he was getting the call.
And, along with the likes of Avi Mehl, Dawson Clark, John Manero and Mike Tangredi, these rarely-used players each played a pivotal role in Army’s 16-15 upset victory over the host and fourth-seeded Terrapins. The five players – two freshmen, two sophomores and a junior, who collectively accounted for just 12 goals this season – tallied six scores against Maryland.
And, with 11 different Army players scoring goals, including a hat trick by freshman Gunnar Fellows, and 16 saves by senior goalie Knox Dent, the Black Knights are moving forward into the tournament’s quarterfinals for the first time since their epic 9-8 double-overtime victory over top-seeded Syracuse in 2010. Army will play the winner of Sunday’s first-round game between Penn State and Princeton next Sunday at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md.
“It is just a great feeling to come out of this with a win,” said McCullough, a sophomore from Niskayuna, N.Y., an Albany suburb. “With the injuries to Paul Johnson and Bailey O’Connor, our coaches told all of us that it was our turn to help the team out tonight. It was like getting thrown into the fire. But, to be honest, I just did what I do every day in practice. Compete with the other guys, learn the plays and prepare for a moment like this when I might get called on to help the team win a game. Today, my teammates and I were ready to go and to do our parts to help us win and go on to the next round.”
By most accounts, this was a game that Army should not have been given much of a chance of winning. First, Maryland, was a seasoned team playing out of the highly-ranked Big 10 conference. Second, the Terrapins have not lost a first-round game in a decade. Third, and probably most importantly, Army was without the services of Johnson, who scored 28 goals this season before breaking his hand in the Black Knights’ victory over Loyola (Md.) last Sunday in the Patriot League championship game, and O’Connor, who scored 15 goals this season.
But, the Black Knights played its best team game of the season when they needed it most. Army charged out to a quick 3-0 lead and then took a 7-2 lead before Maryland charged back to make it 8-8 at halftime. The two squads traded leads throughout the second half before Army grabbed a 16-14 lead late in the game. Maryland scored a goal to cut the lead to one, 16-15, with 36 seconds remaining in the game and controlled the next faceoff. But, two shots missed the target and Army was able to run the clock out to hold on to the victory.
“It was a great day for the Army lacrosse team, all of our alums and the whole Army lacrosse family,” said head coach Joe Alberici. “We had everybody step up today, with 11 different scorers and Knox Dent once again playing great in goal. I am just so happy for this team and proud to be a part of this effort tonight.
“We knew that no one could replace Paul Johnson’s productivity by themselves or the great job that Bailey O’Connor has done for us all season. Instead, we relied on a bunch of players off the bench to make a difference and that is exactly what they did. This was an exemplary team effort.”
Alberici was particularly impressed with the fact that Army never gave up even after the Terrapins scored six of seven goals to tie the game, 8-8, and seemed to turn the tide of the contest. “Maryland was the defending national champions,” he said. “We knew they were not going to stop fighting and would hit us with some body blows throughout the game. Our guys never stopped fighting either.”