Duke Holds off Virginia's Comeback in the ACC Championship
Duke Men's lacrosse team celebrates their victory with the ACC Tournament Trophy. Duke Men's Lacrosse team holds off the Cavalier's comeback to repeat as ACC Champions. The score was 11-9 at Klockner Stadium on April 27, 2008. Yuchen Nie/DC Sports Box
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.  -- In many ways the Duke Men's lacrosse team is the college lacrosse version of the New England Patriots, and although they were not perfect in the regular season (sole loss to Georgetown), the Blue Devils are not only the team to beat, but attract both fans and haters to their games. Duke Lacrosse is regarded by many experts as the best team in the country due to their depth and experience (Duke has four fifth year seniors including All-Americans Matt Danowski and Nick O'Hara), and very few teams can match their firepower and pressure. On Sunday during the ACC Tournament finals between top-ranked Duke and third-ranked Virginia, Duke showed that even with their offense stalling, they can come away with a win.
To start the game Virginia played a patient style of offense that involved holding the ball and waiting for the opposing defense to lose focus, leading to open cutters for the easy shots. However, Duke's defense proved to be too disciplined for that type of offense, and kept hounding the ball carrier for eight UVA first quarter turnovers. Virginia fought back to keep possession with the ground balls as they out-gained the Blue Devils 13-6 in that area and managed to score first (thanks to Brian Carroll). Duke came back firing and scored the next four unanswered goals in the first quarter by four different players.

Despite the lack of production in the first quarter, Virginia managed to hang with the Blue Devils by winning 4 of the 6 face-offs and out-shooting them 12-9. However, the Cavaliers lost the ground ball war to the Blue Devils by picking up only 5 compared with Duke's 12, thereby losing the opportunities and second chance shots they would normally have. Duke started the 2nd quarter with two goals by Zach Howell and Ned Crotty (both unassisted), bringing the scoring streak to 6 unanswered goals. Virginia's Peter Lamade (a fifth year senior who was a Blue Devil last season) then fed Garrett Billings in front of the goal to cut Duke's lead to 4. Duke responded a minute later when Ned Crotty hooked around the goal and scored for the 2nd time to increase the lead to 5. At the end of the half, Virginia would take advantage of a man-up situation to score another goal from Garrett Billings, bringing the deficit down to 4.

Duke is a team that plays a style that brings out the best or worst in their opponents.  During the third quarter Duke clearly brought out the worst in the Cavaliers (especially in the man-up situations). Matt Danowski got things started for Duke as he scored on a shot that ricocheted off the ground and hit the back of the net. Then, on a man-up situation, Ned Crotty found Matt Danowski open on the left for another Duke goal. On the ensuing face-off, Will Barrow of the Cavaliers committed an offsides penalty, and Duke took advantage of the situation for another goal by Zack Greer. Finally, to finish Duke's scoring run, Ned Crotty found Matt Danowski open for Duke's final goal of the game with 6:36 remaining in the third quarter. During the third quarter, Duke would probably have generated a much higher lead if it weren't for Virginia goalie Bud Petit playing at his best; he recorded 10 saves in the period, and 18 saves in the game.

With the score at 11-3 and a familiar blow-out waiting to happen, Virginia's head coach, Dom Starsia, decided to scrap the original game plan in favor of a much faster, desperate approach to score more goals and tire out Duke's defense. Virginia quickly regained momentum after the switch of offense, as they managed to score 6 straight unanswered goals. Ben Rubeor led the offense with 3 goals and 1 assist, while teammate Brian Carroll notched a pair of goals himself.

UVA managed to score a goal at the 8:56 mark by Rhamel Bratton to cut the deficit to 4. However, the Cavaliers would not be able to get another goal until Peter Lamade fed Brian Carroll at the 1:42 mark, thereby dangerously closing in at the end.  On the ensuing possession, UVA won the face-off and Mike Thompson found a very open Ben Rubeor 10 seconds after the previous goal was scored to cut the deficit to 2. However, the comeback would end as Duke won the ensuing face-off and burned off the clock in a game of keep-away for the win.

Duke repeats as ACC Champions and looks ahead to be, most likely, the number 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament again. Players describe the victory as "half-way up the mountain," as they still have some aspects of the game they need to improve before going into the Tournament.