CARY, N.C. -- To reach the pinnacle of men's college soccer, Maryland needed new blood.
The previous three incarnations of the Terrapins were all very good, but they were always a shot or a save short of the national championship, losing in the semifinals of the College Cup the last three seasons.
Against a rugged New Mexico team on Sunday at SAS Soccer Park in suburban Raleigh, top-seeded Maryland (19-4-2) received vital contributions from two players who hadn't shared in those disappointments.
Transfer Marc Burch scored the game-winning goal.
Freshman keeper Chris Seitz made a sensational play to preserve the title.
And when the final horn sounded, Maryland players new and old celebrated a 1-0 victory over the second-seeded Lobos (18-2-3) that was four years in the making.
"[On Saturday] I said that if we win the national championship, I'll have a warm and fuzzy feeling for about 48 hours," Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said. "I guess I lied because I'm going to feel pretty good for the next nine months."
After the NCAA Championship trophy was presented to the team, Maryland's players basked in the moment, hooting and hollering in front of the Terrapin fans who had made the five-hour drive from College Park. Some of the seniors broke off for a quick photo.
"This is for four years of hard work," they shouted.
But without Burch and Seitz, all the four years of hard work might have earned was four debilitating losses in the College Cup.
Burch is a senior, but he played his first three collegiate seasons at Evansville (Ind.) before transferring. He found his stride in the Terrapins' NCAA Tournament run, scoring the penalty-kick winner against Akron in the quarterfinals and the game-winner against Brown in the second round.
Against the Lobos, Burch broke through with something of a fluke goal in the 31st minute.
The forward took a free kick from 25 yards that looked relatively benign off his foot. But the ball deflected off the left edge of the New Mexico wall and changed direction, catching Lobos keeper Mike Graczyk moving the wrong way. As he tried to scramble back to his right, the ball tumbled into the bottom-left corner of the net.
"I was just trying to keep the ball in frame, really," Burch said. "Keep it in frame and get a lot of power behind it and hopefully get a rebound, a deflection -- anything."
The Lobos should've tied the score in the 50th minute.
After a cross into the box, standout forward Jeff Rowland tried to bicycle-kick the ball from 12 yards out. The fancy maneuver worked in the Lobos' favor as the ball went off the arm of Maryland's Maurice Edu.
The handball whistle gave New Mexico a penalty kick. As has been the case all season, New Mexico coach Jeff Fishbein had defender Andrew Boyens take it.
Earlier in the NCAA Tournament, the Lobos went to penalty kicks against Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Since Cirovski went to school there, he called the team's coaching staff this week to see if they had noticed any tendencies with New Mexico's players. They told him that Boyens had a habit of opening and going to the keeper's left.
Sure enough on Sunday, Boyens opened up and fired the ball just above the ground to Seitz's left.
"He opened up, and from that point on, I knew he was going to my left, and I just tried to get there," Seitz said.
Get there, he did. But the rebound bounced right back to Boyens, who had Seitz out of position and a wide-open net some eight yards away.
Improbably, Boyens blasted the ball above the crossbar.
"There's not much to say, really," a morose Boyens said afterward. "It's the worst feeling in the world. … The first one was horrible, the second one was even worse."
New Mexico didn't have many quality chances after the PK sequence, which made sure the Terrapins lived up to expectations that Seitz, of all people, created for them.
The San Luis Obispo, Calif., native attended last year's College Cup in Carson, Calif. In the aftermath of Maryland's gut-wrenching double overtime loss to Indiana, Seitz -- then a highly touted recruit -- sought out Cirovski for a word of encouragement.
"He said, 'Don't worry, coach. Next year we're going to win it all,' " Cirovski said.
From the opening moments of this College Cup, Seitz -- who became the first freshman to backstop his team to an NCAA title since eventual World Cup keeper Brad Friedel did it for UCLA in 1990 -- did what he could to back his brash claim.
In the semifinals on Friday, Maryland carried the early play against SMU, but the Mustangs nearly took an unlikely 1-0 lead when a pair of Terrapin defenders allowed Duke Hashimoto to go unmarked near the top of the box. Seitz made an acrobatic save, and when he stood up, the freshman immediately yelled at his older teammates.
"He's been amazing," said Jason Garey, who was named the Most Outstanding Offensive Player. "He's got a great future."
Illustrating the importance of Burch's goal and Seitz's save, Garey didn't have his usual finishing touch on Sunday.
The Hermann Trophy candidate, who scored two goals in 15 seconds in Maryland's 4-1 win over SMU, had a golden opportunity early when he received the ball right on the PK mark 12 yards from the goal. He booted the ball wide left.
Later in the game, Garey had an even better chance after a mad scramble in front of the Lobos' net. But he missed a wide-open net from 5 yards out when he chipped the ball high over the crossbar.
But this wasn't the last three years, and Garey's misses didn't come back to haunt the Terrapins.
"I think we're the best team in the nation," Garey said. "I think we proved that today. … And they'll be back next year."
Jack Daly covers college athletics for the Durham Herald-Sun.