BALTIMORE - It was almost the perfect story.
Dominated by a third-seeded Johns Hopkins squad (13-4) that won 12 of 16 faceoffs and dictated time of possession in the first half, Duke appeared to be done, facing a 10-4 hole at the break.
But over the final 30 minutes of the game, the team that has faced adversity for the past 14 months yet again lived up to its motto-"succisa virescit," Latin for "when cut down, it grows back stronger."
The top-seeded Blue Devils (17-3) found new life in the second half, clawing their way back into the game with five unanswered goals in the third quarter before pulling even at 11-11 with 4:37 left in the fourth.
Even when Blue Jay attackman Kevin Huntley turned a Mike Ward turnover into the go-ahead goal with 3:25 remaining, Duke seemed determined to give its 2007 season its storybook ending.
But it was not meant to be.
In the game's frenzied final minutes, midfielder Brad Ross hit the left post and Hopkins goalie Jesse Schwartzman made two saves before freshman Max Quinzani's last-second prayer from 30 yards out sailed a few inches wide of the cage. With that final miss, the Blue Jays held on for a 12-11 victory over Duke at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
"This isn't Hollywood, there are no storybook endings for these kids and for that I am sad," head coach John Danowski said. "In life, sometimes the ball hits the pipe and bounces the other way."
After Quinzani's shot missed the mark, captain Matt Danowski, who was held to one goal and one assist-his second-lowest point total of the season-knelt with his head down in front of the Blue Jay cage as Schwartzman and childhood friend Brendan Skakandi, a Hopkins midfielder, tried to offer encouragement.
"I wish we could play again tomorrow. I wish I had another day of practice with my 40 other teammates because I'm going to miss it," Danowski said as he fought back tears. "[It's] just an extreme feeling of emptiness to come up one goal short."
In an emotional postgame press conference, John Danowski talked about the bonds forged between the Duke players over the past year, suggesting that Monday's contest was about more than just a lacrosse game.
After President Richard Brodhead reinstated the men's lacrosse program June 5, Danowski was hired July 21 to replace former head coach Mike Pressler, who had been forced to resign.
Pressler, as well as Collin Finnerty, David Evans, Trinity '06, and Reade Seligmann, the formerly indicted players, were all in attendance Monday.
"Love, or respect, or affection that I have for these kids-it will run to my core for the rest of my life," Danowski said through tears. "To know what they went through last spring and to act and carry themselves the way they did all year round was unbelievable."
Hopkins successfully shot down both Matt Danowski and Zack Greer, the NCAA leader in goals with 67, who was held to zero goals and one assist in the title game.
Duke's first half defense and inability to win faceoffs, however, ultimately doomed the Blue Devils, Danowski said.
"We were fine offensively, I think it was just a matter of time of possession," he said. "If we had a couple more possessions in the first half maybe it's 10-6, maybe it's closer than what the lead was."
Despite their early miscues on offense, the Blue Devils gave themselves a chance to win at the end, by scoring in bunches-something they had done before in their ACC title win agains Virginia and NCAA quarterfinal victory over North Carolina.
But in those games, the Blue Devils had more chances to strike, a luxury Duke did not have against the patient Blue Jays.
"It wasn't a matter of playing well offensively, it was just a matter of having the ball in our stick," he said. "We came back, we showed heart, we showed character. It just didn't go our way."
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