NCAA MEN’S LACROSSE SOUTH REGION QUARTERFINAL RECAP 

As predicted, the 2021 Division II Men’s Lacrosse Quarterfinal game between the University of Tampa (UT) (10-0), and Lenoir Rhyne (LR) (13-1) was a dogfight. The Bears had home-field advantage, plus a mass of cheering fans at Moretz Stadium, in Hickory, NC. The first highlight of this column is that fans were in attendance. Passion is back in the stands. Sports are alive again.

To get a spot in this game, Tampa beat up on Mount Olive 24-8 two days prior and Tampa was hungry for more. Coming off an undefeated COVID-cancelled season last year, and a clean record of 10-0, Tampa had everything to lose. Top-seeded Lenoir Rhyne was fresh off a bye and likewise would not be satisfied unless they were victorious. In the 7 years that the men’s lacrosse program has been in existence at the University of Tampa, Head Coach Rory Whipple and the team have never taken home the National Championship trophy, but they were ready to prove that they were, in fact, one of the best teams from the South. I was in full support of Tampa going all the way. How’s it go? Champa Bay? LR Head Coach Greg Paradine and the LR Bears likewise have never come out on top, so I guess you can say that LR had everything to lose too. Legends are made when you leave it all out on the line, and this game was nothing short of a display of heart by both squads.

Here’s the play by play.

FIRST

LR: Eric Dickinson would find the back of the net first for LR. Tampa’s #12: Sam Collingwood had a huge defensive knockdown early in the first to help senior attacker Colin White kick off the scoring run for Tampa. 1-1. Tampa’s offense opened patiently, worked it around with pace, and started heating up after another goal by Jake Mosher McGraw on a top shoulder drive down the middle lane, and an unassisted rip by Daniel Fitzpatrick. LR: Bryce Reece ripped it and it was saved by Tampa goalie Blake Ulmer, along with another save on the rebounded shot. Possession moved to Tampa and Jack Wood and Ben French looked to get a new play going for the Spartans starting at the X. Another goal would come from Daniel Fitzpatrick off this play to make it 4-1 Tampa. The faceoffs were going to both squads at this point, LR’s main issue was capitalizing off the time they had with the ball instead of throwing it out of bounds. Tampa would score the next 3 goals all assisted. The Bears were being hunted at this point in the 1st but they hung on for one last shot with 5 seconds left when Dickinson scored again making his total (2) on the day and (37) on the season. 7-2 Tampa.

SECOND

LR came out flying in the 2nd with Reece, Will Canata, and Myles Moffat controlling the scoreboard for the first 8 minutes of the period. UT did not score until ten minutes into the 2nd period when they answered LR’s 3 goals with 3 of their own from French, Fitzpatrick, and Bryan Wright. The opening quarter may have belonged to Tampa, but the 2nd was anyones. We saw a 3-3 ball game in the second period. As the players took to the locker rooms, the score was 10-5 Tampa, and both teams were very much alive in the fight to get to the semifinals.

THIRD

The majority of the 3rd period undeniably belonged to LR. Reece kicked off the scoring in the 1st minute, and then again in the 2nd minute. French did not let the run go for long, he found the net on an assist from Wood. LR: Toron Eccleston answered back. 11-8 Tampa. Tampa squeaked one more by on a man-up goal by Fitzpatrick, his mark on the day was a “hatty +1” which is four goals for those not familiar with the lingo.  After a 5 goal run, LR took the lead 13-12 for the first time in the game. Long-stick middy Scott Phillips found the ball in the midfield, moved it to Wood and it was 13-13 with 3 minutes left in the 3rd.  Dickerson won another faceoff and the Tampa offense was able to work it around but couldn’t get a score in 80 seconds. In the ride, Tampa got the ball back and French ripped a shot high, it was backed up, Wright took another shot and backed up his own, then Wood got it at the X, he zipped it over to Mosher with 55 seconds left on the clock, who swung it to Wright to French for a slam dunk in front of the cage. It was a huge momentum shift and great ball movement by Tampa. In my opinion, it was the best possession of the game. 14-13 Tampa.

FOURTH

LR: Kyle Hatcher tallied the first goal of the quarter and had a “hatty + 1” as well. Ulmer got scored on again at the doorstep, by Moffat to make it 15-14 LR. With the Bears up by a goal, and Tampa man down on a holding call to Matthew Beddow, the Spartans were fighting for their lives. A power play came from Owen Matukas on a defensive interception and an assist to French;  his total (4) for the day and (35) on the season. 15-15. LR played much more aggressively in the second half, it took them a while to find their groove, but when they found it they exploited it. Toward the end of the 4th, opportunities for both teams to score were there but neither could capitalize. LR took a weak shot, it was saved by Ulmer and sent up to Wright who took a shot and did not finish. Timeout LR. LR had another shot of taking the lead but could not get by Ulmer. It came down to the wire in the South region quarterfinals. Tampa had one last shot at it, they drained the shot clock for way too long, and didn’t have enough time left to work with. French tried to get a shot off and could not do it in time. 15-15.

OVERTIME

Captains call the coin flip. A/P remains. Sudden death. Golden goal. 16-15. Freshman Colten McCracken ended Tampa’s undefeated season. The Bears move on to the semifinals after a gritty war to the very last seconds. Lenoir Rhyne would be second to none on 5/16/21 and one step closer to a ring. LR will take on Wingate in a rematch of the SAC Final on Sunday, May 21.

PLAYER REACTIONS

Ross Dickerson #24

AH: If you could go back and redo anything that happened in the season, would you?

RD: “I wouldn’t change a thing. We had a perfect record until we played LR. Unfortunately, things just didn’t go our way on Sunday. In close games like that, every single play matters, and we were just a few shy of beating them. Credit to them as they are a very talented squad, but I still believe Tampa will be one of the best teams in the South for years to come.

AH: As a two-time captain of this team, what words can you leave your team with after a devastating loss like this?

RD: “OT losses are never fun, especially when they end your season. I encourage all of my teammates to remember this feeling and make sure the younger guys do as well. There’s nothing I can do to avenge this loss now, but I am excited to see what future Tampa lacrosse teams do.”

Bryan Wright #8

AH: As a captain what would you say future Tampa teams can take away from this heartbreaking loss?

BW: “Don’t take your senior season for granted and play every game like it could be your last whether you are a senior or not, you could have a career-ending injury or get your season taken away in the blink of an eye.”

AH: Your senior season gets canceled, you come back for a 5th year, was it all worth it?

BW: “Coming back for my 5th year was absolutely worth it.  Not only did I get to play my last year of lacrosse but I got to compete for a National Championship. Not only have I grown on the field but off the field as well.”

Matthew Beddow #10

AH: Where do you think Tampa went wrong? What can the team take into the 2022 season?

MB: As a team, we came out slow in the second half and LR capitalized on that and went on a big run, which eventually led them to be back in the game. We will definitely learn from this, and hopefully not take our feet off the gas pedal.”

Marc Whitaker #21

AH: How is Tampa going to come out in the 2022 season?

MW: The 2022 season will be another year of high expectations. The class of 2022 has a ton of experience under their belt dealing with lows of two separate heart-breaking OT finishes in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tourney (’19,’21). Next year, we aim to accomplish the same goal we had when we moved into the dorm’s freshman years and that is to bring a championship home to Tampa, FL.

PUB REVIEW

If you are looking for a place with great owners and employees, a beer list, sports, and a turf field for your beloved pooches to run around, look no further than Pups Pub on W Kennedy Blvd. They streamed the game for us and cheered for the home team alongside us. I would certainly recommend it!

MY REACTION

Bruises always hurt worse after a loss, huh?

I lived in Syracuse for 18 years, but I consider myself a Floridian. Tampa Bay is home, and for that, I would have been thrilled for the Men’s Lacrosse team to have won and advanced, but sometimes you just lose. Tampa is down but not out. I commend the Lenoir Rhyne Men’s Lacrosse team for an incredible win, it was fun to watch. Plenty of incredible teams lose right? It happens all the time from HOF Jim Kelly leading the Bills to four Super Bowls (and losing all of them) to the Sixers losing in Game 7 off Kawhi’s quadruple doink. Failure defines us. If Tampa must go out, they went out screaming and not with a whimper.  I congratulate them for going out fighting until the very end of it.

Look for my column every Monday.