Virginia began the season ranked in the top 10 but had been in free-fall coming into this game with a record of 3-4. Let there be no mistake, Virginia is absolutely stacked with talent and gave the Irish all it could handle for 60 minutes and 23 seconds in front of a very festive Arlotta Stadium crowd in a nationally televised game.
Notre Dame entered the game with serious questions about their 6-on-6 offense, and the first half showed they have not yet come up with any answers, putting up an anemic two goals to end the half 2-2. The Irish seemed determined to change their approach in the first possession by simply putting a player behind the goal at X and shooting a lot, a rather pedestrian strategy against a team not known for its ability to defend off the ball movement. As could be predicted, this did not yield results with the first goal coming off a Matt Kavanaugh shot in transition. The second midfield line provided the other goal off a Ben Pridemore shot.
Despite his goal, the concerns over Matt Kavanaugh's condition we only compounded. Virginia gave him ZERO respect on defense. The All-American was generally covered by a short stick midfielder, what would have historically been considered the worst kind of coaching malpractice. Kavanaugh gave a solid effort but could not make them pay. He passed up shots a healthy Matt Kavanaugh would have buried, and his playmaking was ordinary as he didn't draw many double-teams to free up Wynne or Garnsey. As a strategy it paid off for Virginia as Wynne and Kavanaugh finished the game with only three goals between them.
Shane Doss in goal was once again phenomenal with 14 saves, nearly all of them spectacular.
The second half got sporty in a hurry with Virginia taking the lead almost immediately, having started the half man-up for the tail end of an ND penalty from the earlier half. The Irish struggled to keep up until the lights went on for Perkovic when he smoked the 4th Irish goal. This seemed to rejuvenate the team who held pace in some very exciting back-and-forth action.
Disaster struck once again with a very unlucky goal on Doss with 1:24 left to play. Doss made a brilliant save and the rebound
was kicked in illegally by Virginia' Ryan Lukacovic miraculously struck the shin of a Virginia player and went in, giving Virgina a 1-goal lead with time running out (Officiating was atrocious throughout the game, more on that later).
As we all know with a certainly that wells from deep within our souls, the Irish mens' lacrosse team is never out, and their hero Sergio Perkovic rescued the team once again with a determined goal with 0:23 on the clock. As a fan it is truly amazing that no one ever seems to doubt that Sergio and his teammates can come up with the goods when the Irish's back is against the wall.
After some more last-second horrible officiating, the game went into OT and Coach Corrigan left absolutely nothing to chance, moving the brilliant Matt Landis to faceoff wing to assist P.J. Finley and Jimmy Sexton. Irish win the faceoff after some bonecrushing ground ball action, get the ball to Perkovic, and game over, Irish win!
My able assistant, ND-Atl 2.0, identified several pregame questions to be answered:
Will 6-on-6 offense improve? As noted above, heck no. I have no more explanations or ideas for this. Corrigan tried many new things with no success. The second and third middie lines played more, Pierre Byrne was give some good oppurtunities, and the Irish took their shots, but nothing seemed to work or look like it's going to eventually work. The players' effort did not go unnoticed, but at some point the superstars simply need to live up to their billing other than in the last few minutes of a game.
Can the defense maintain its excellence again without Garrett Epple? For the most part, yes. Because he lives in the huge shadow of Matt Landis, folks forget Garrett Epple is an all-american, too. Jack Sheridan has played well in Epple's absence, but there is a difference, and Nick Koshansky and company are not a one-for-one replacement for Jack Near. Eddy "the Bagpiper" Glazener has amazing discipline on the back line and shows vocal leadership. They took care of their business man-to-man, and there was not much need for slides. In short, holding Virginia to 7 goals should be plenty to win under normal circumstances.
Will P.J. Finley build on his success at face-off having successfully battled the brilliant Kevin Baptiste? No, there was some serious regression with Finley going 4-of-18, an abyssmal number. To counteract his struggles, Corrigan brought in Landis at wing which yielded immediate dividends. but that is a risk the Irish can't take as a matter of course. Finley brings great effort, and when successful he is devastating in transition, but he simply can't have days this bad. Seeing his struggles today, Corrigan should have either tried someone else at face-off or brought in Landis at the wing a lot earlier.
Bonus wishful thinking question: Can the Irish ride get even better? Yes, yes, yes! For the uninitiated to lacrosse, the "ride" is transition defense, looking to prevent the opposition from advancing the ball from the defensive to offensive zone. Think full-court press in hoops. The Irish ride has been excellent all year but has added a few gears in the last few games. Key to this has been the commitment from the attackmen, particularly Wynne, but also Kavanaugh. They have bought into the plan and are showing fantastic aggression. There are no free trips up the field for the opposition, and critical scoring opportunities are being generated in transition. It's so good, in fact, that Notre Dame rarely brings out the riskier 10-man ride. Kavanaugh and Perkovic both received penalties for their aggression in the ride, but both were excusable. In Kavanaugh's case, after his hit on the Virginia goalie, the keeper didn't even bother leaving the crease for the remainder of the game, so net win.
-Jim Sexton is a revelation at LSM. He gets better every game and has become central to the transition offense.
-Somewhere in the greater Michiana area, a pee-wee lacrosse game is missing its referees.
-Irish committed a lot of truly unforced turnovers on offense, mostly by lazily not protecting their sticks. This is some very basic stuff that should never be an issue at this level of lacrosse.
-Brian Kelly was interviewed at the half, but during the game it was proven that his purple-faced sideline rants are second- if not third-rate copies of the flamethrower mouth of Coach Corrigan. The ESPNU sound guy must have been asleep because we were treated to some fantastic un-bleeped hot mike sideline action from the 28-season coach. Plus, we found out that there is a girl in the stands who really, really, really likes Mikey Wynne.
-ESPNU coverage was again very good, but they can certainly come up with a better moniker for Notre Dame's Eddy Lubowicki than "the Polish Rifleman".
-This is completely nitpicky, but the velocity on Perkovic's shots was below his standard. Of course, a "meh" Perkovic shot is still harder than anyone else on the field, but I was hoping for some 105+ mph smoke. Maybe this had to do with the fact that he broke his main stick over a Virginia defenseman's head, but one has to note the importance of the Hammer as a critical part of the offensive setup. Of course, goals are goals, and who am I to judge the player who again scored the game-saver and the game-winner.