EAST HARTFORD, CONN.—Two conference champions, two Tewaaraton Award finalists, a laundry list of All-Americans at both ends and a trip to the NCAA Championship Game on the line. It should’ve been a close game.
But at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn., Duke fell to Maryland 14-5 in the Final Four of the NCAA Championship as the undefeated Big Ten Champion proved to be unstoppable. As NCAA scoring leader Jared Bernhardt racked up goal after goal for the Terrapins, finishing with five, and goalie Logan McNaney tallied save after save, the Blue Devils couldn’t find an answer and went home empty handed.
“I don't know that it was so much that we didn’t play well. Maybe it was that Maryland played great,” head coach John Danowski said after the game.
The Blue Devils knew it would be an uphill battle coming in. Between the Terrapins’ 14-0 record, Bernhardt and star Duke defender JT Giles-Harris playing through a knee injury he suffered in the first quarter, it would take the Blue Devils’ best team effort of the season to make it to the finals. But that didn’t happen, and Duke struggled until the final second to create chemistry and generate opportunities.
“It was just hard to find that right balance and that right chemistry, very difficult. It was good enough to get to this point, but certainly [identity] was something that I think we struggled with all year,” Danowski said.
Maryland opened scoring with a goal from none other than Bernhardt, but a flurry of turnovers kept the game going back and forth until an unbelievable save from senior goalie Mike Adler gave Duke possession. Once at the other end of the field, it didn’t take long for Dyson Williams to find the back of the net to make it a tie game.
For the remainder of the quarter, turnovers and defense were the name of the game, as both teams played with physicality on their own ends, delivering on the tension promised by such a high-powered matchup.
Then, after a late first-quarter goal from Bernhardt and an early second-quarter goal from Anthony DeMaio, it looked like Maryland might take over. That is, until ACC Freshman of the Year Brennan O’Neill picked up a sneaky ground ball near the crease and stuffed it past McNaney to bring the Blue Devils back within one.
However, shortly after the Blue Devils failed to capitalize on an extra-man opportunity, Bernhardt completed a hat trick to put the Terrapins up two. An individual effort from graduate transfer Michael Sowers with just five seconds on the shot clock kept the Blue Devils in the game, but three goals in under a minute from Maryland steepened the hill Duke would have to climb to a victory. Another goal shortly after made it 8-3 and gave Maryland an even steeper lead.
At the end of the first half, it was clear the Blue Devils had their work cut out for them as Maryland seemed to capitalize on every mistake. Evading attempts at pressure in the middle of the field and dominating at the faceoff circle and in groundballs, the Terrapins were able to create offense in transition in the late stages of the half to establish a rock solid lead to start the third.
Still, Duke would try their best to stay in the game and keep fighting.
“Each team goes on runs, so we weren't backing down when that happened,” senior defensive midfielder Terry Lindsay said. "We're never going to give up. That's an ethos of Duke lacrosse. Never give up."
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Quashing the Terrapins’ momentum would prove even harder, though, as Roman Puglise scored the first goal of the second half for Maryland and any opportunity the Blue Devils found was immediately snatched up by McNaney, who finished the game with 17 saves.
Maryland seemed unstoppable as Logan Wisnauskas scored the Terrapins' sixth unanswered goal only for Bernhardt to score the seventh and his fourth of the day on another extra-man opportunity. Nearly all the Blue Devil third-quarter scoring attempts ended up in McNaney’s pocket or turned over and with eight seconds left in the third quarter, Duke barely avoided being shut out of scoring in the period entirely when Williams scored off a quick feed from senior midfielder Nakeie Montgomery.
With just 15 minutes left for Duke to save its season, it was still struggling to find an identity to match Maryland’s strength. Instead, the only thing left standing between the Terrapins and a trip to the championship was Adler, who had largely been hung out to dry. Things got desperate after DeMaio scored his second to put Maryland up by eight with just over 10 minutes left in the game. Nothing short of a miracle would save the season for the Blue Devils.
That miracle wouldn’t come. Instead, the Terrapins continued to rain shots on net, hassling the Duke defenders and midfielders and keeping the scoring opportunities coming. Though the wheels fell off the Duke wagon early in the contest, Bernhardt’s fifth goal of the day truly signaled the end of Duke’s season and the dominance of the Terrapins. A goal from Sowers with 20 seconds left couldn’t soften a very tough blow, and the Blue Devils were left with an early exit from Championship Weekend.
“[Maryland] just outplayed us today,” Lindsay said.
After the final whistle blew, emotions ran high as the Blue Devils put a wrap on their 2021 season.
“I couldn't be more proud of how we fought through everything this year,” Lindsay said.
Sasha Richie is a Trinity junior and the Blue Zone Editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.