Syracuse title has storybook ending
Cody Jamieson comes full circle as the Orange win their 11th championship
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As soon as the ball left his stick, Cody Jamieson knew two things: It was going in, and he had to find Sid Smith.
And so, as the entire Syracuse lacrosse team rushed Jamieson after his game winner in overtime of the national championship game, he sprinted the other way.
"He was the only person I wanted to celebrate with," Jamieson said of his teammate.
Jamieson found Smith clear on the opposite end of the field, and the two embraced in a hug that needed no words.
This was a hug imagined first on the box lacrosse field of an Indian reservation, embellished on long car rides from community college to their Ontario home, temporarily dampened by Jamieson's eligibility issues, and finally realized when Jamieson zipped his left-handed shot past Cornell goalie Jake Myers for the Orange's stunning 10-9 come-from-behind win.
Jamieson's shot, coupled with a last-second scramble goal in regulation that will live in the highlight reels in one part of upstate New York and in the nightmares of another, turned Syracuse into back-to-back national champions for the first time in nearly 20 years.
"It's fitting, I think, that Cody scored the game winner," Smith said.
More fitting is that the two players who are like brothers paired up to give Syracuse the championship, Smith starting the game-winning play with his defense, Jamieson finishing with his offense.
Jamieson and Smith grew up on the Six Nations Indian reservation on the Grand River of Ontario, meeting as toddlers on the lacrosse field, the indigenous sport of choice on the reservation. They played box lacrosse, an indoor version of the game, and talked about playing at Syracuse University. Other Native Americans had followed that path to success previously -- Jamieson even wears No. 43 in honor of one, Marshall Abrams -- and Jamieson and Smith dreamed of making the trip together.
They each took the same first step, spending two years at Onondaga Community College, a junior college lacrosse powerhouse in Syracuse, N.Y. On the frequent four-hour rides from OCC back home, they talked more about the childhood dream that was now tantalizingly close and what it would mean to loft an NCAA trophy together.
Neither had it easy, each needing extra time to get his academics in order before matriculating at Syracuse.
Smith, a year older than junior Jamieson, played one year at OCC and spent the second working on his grades. Last season he finally got to Syracuse, where he earned honorable-mention All-America honors.
Jamieson's path was even more complicated. A prized recruit whom Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni called "automatic" as a goal-scorer, he landed at Syracuse amid hype and hope in January and instead got caught in an NCAA web of paperwork.
Eligibility issues involving his OCC transcript took months to clear up, and while the Orange's season began, Jamieson languished on the sidelines.
"He's like the ghost of Syracuse lacrosse," Nims said. "We've been waiting for him all year."
Smith pulled Jamieson through on the Syracuse campus, recreating the heartfelt conversations they once shared in the car to and from OCC.
"He's been as good as a best friend could be," Jamieson said of Smith. "I really leaned on him, and he kept me going. There were definitely times where I laid awake at night, staring up at the ceiling, wondering if everything was going to work out."
Ultimately, if belatedly, it did. Jamieson was cleared before the second-to-last game of the regular season.
Five games into his career, he put in the winner for the national title.
"Storybook? Yeah, it is," Jamieson admitted.
More like a recurring nightmare for Cornell.
Storybook? Yeah, it is.
--Syracuse's Cody Jamieson, on scoring the game winner
Two years ago, the Big Red were three seconds away from their first appearance in a national championship game since 1988 when Duke scored to win the game.
Fast forward to Monday afternoon in sun-drenched Gilette Stadium: The Big Red controlled the game with their poise, patience and tempo for 56 minutes and then completely unraveled in the final five, falling 4.5 seconds short of the university's first team national championship in any sport since 1977.
"Four seconds away, it seems to be a number that haunts us," senior Max Seibald said. "That was the number on the board when I was a sophomore when Duke scored on us. That makes it even tougher for us. For the seniors, we've worked so hard these past four years, and for the rest of the team, throughout the entire year, we've put so much into it and it meant so much to us. There's a lot of emotion in that locker room right now."
Syracuse trailed 9-6 with 5:31 to play and had been stymied the entire game by Cornell's stingy defense. But Stephen Keogh scored with 3:37 to play and Jamieson sliced a shot directly in front of the goal to make it a very uncomfortable 9-8 with 2:46 left.
When Keogh missed a shot and Cornell retained possession with 27.6 seconds left, it looked as if the Big Red finally could celebrate.
And then the Big Red was hit with the sickest feeling of déjà vu.
Nims stripped Matt Moyer at midfield, and Keogh scooped up the ground ball. He tossed a crazy overhead shot that somehow went directly to Matt Abbott.
Abbott, falling over as he was crushed by Cornell defenders, slung a pass to Nims.
"I knew Kenny was somewhere down there, and I saw him as I spun around," Abbott said. "I just threw it in his general direction."
The pass looked a whole lot more like a heave but still found Nims dead-on in front of the goal.
The senior was maybe one uncut toenail away from the crease and a no-goal but managed to toe the line to perfection, slicing his shot past Myers to knot the game at 9.
"I had no idea where I was," Nims said. "I knew I just had to shoot and hope it didn't get called back."
It didn't, setting up the Smith-Jamieson heroics.
Cornell won the opening faceoff in overtime and, with their deliberate style of play, could have held the ball for an eternity in search of the perfect shot. The Big Red had drained precious minutes off the clock in the fourth quarter, keeping the Orange at bay.
But Smith caught Ryan Hurley unaware from behind, checking his stick hard enough to cause a turnover.
"Sid is a lacrosse player," Syracuse coach John Desko said. "He understands the game, and he knew the situation and knew what he had to do. He just made a great play."
The great play led directly to Jamieson's game winner, with Dan Hardy faking a shot to shake a defender and finding Jamieson right outside the crease.
"I knew it was going in," Jamieson said. "I just wanted to find Sid. He's the reason I'm here, and I knew I had to find him. He wouldn't find me."
As Jamieson spoke, a grinning Smith did actually come to find him. In his hands he held the NCAA trophy, the one they talked about on the reservation, the one they dreamed about in the car, the one they worried they'd never lift together this season.
"You kiss that thing, Cody," Smith said with a laugh.
Jamieson, who has spent the better part of his life listening to Smith, once again deferred to his mentor. After he pulled the trophy from his lips, the two players hugged again.
They didn't say a word. They didn't have to.
Dana O'Neil covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.