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Hopkins blows lead but holds on to win ninth title

5/29/2007

BALTIMORE -- There were hugs, handshakes and plenty of
tears. The Duke lacrosse team had run through a myriad of emotions
over the past 14 months, and now it was over.

The Blue Devils had an almost unfathomable comeback fall short
in a 12-11 loss to Johns Hopkins in the NCAA championship game
Monday, and afterward the locker room was eerily silent.

No team had ever experienced what Duke had endured. The Blue
Devils never even got the chance to finish their 2006 season, and
then made it all the way back to the title game.

Minutes after the loss, however, that was no consolation.

"Right now I think everyone in here is thinking, 'Wow, we just
lost the national championship.' In a couple of weeks, maybe we'll
say, 'Look what we accomplished,'" goaltender Dan Loftus said.
"But we wanted a national championship. That's what we came here
for."

It would have been a Hollywood story: Duke completes its
emotional comeback season by winning its first national title
before a record crowd.

But Johns Hopkins wrote its own ending.

"We used it as motivation," Blue Jays midfielder Stephen
Peyser said. "When we first got here, we were the forgotten sons.
We said we were going to sneak up on everyone, and when it's our
time, we would show the world what we're made of."

The result left Duke's players engulfed in an emotion they
hadn't experienced in nearly a year -- bitter disappointment.

"It's just an extreme feeling of emptiness," said senior Matt
Danowski, who broke down in tears during his post-game interview.
"Nobody has been through what we've been through. To know the bond
that I share with these guys, I can't describe it in words. I'm
going to miss it."

Despite the defeat, Duke's performance effectively eliminated
the residue of an agonizing 2006 season that was canceled after
eight games.

The Blue Devils fell 9-8 to Hopkins in the 2005 title game, but
missed a chance to return to the Final Four in 2006 after a woman
hired to strip at a team party claimed she was attacked by three
Duke players.

The allegations, which included rape and kidnapping charges,
ultimately proved to be false. But the revelation came too late to
save Duke's season or the job of coach Mike Pressler, who watched
Monday's game among the championship-game record crowd of 48,443
while first-year coach John Danowski, Matt's father, ran a team
consisting of dozens of Pressler recruits.

At game's end, Pressler hung his head. But he visited with his
former players after it was over.

John Danowski expressed pride in being able to coach this team,
which accomplished everything it set out to do until coming up a
goal short in its final test.

"As you can imagine, it was emotional afterward," John
Danowski said. "It's been a [heck] of a ride, and I thank the
students at Duke University for giving me the opportunity to be
here."

The Blue Jays (13-4) never trailed in winning their ninth
national championship. But they blew a six-goal halftime lead and
found themselves locked in a tie at 11 after Duke's Max Quinzani
scored with 4:37 remaining.

Hopkins attackman Kevin Huntley followed with his third goal of
the game, with 3:25 to go, but the Blue Jays couldn't celebrate
until Quinzani's shot went wide of the goal as time expired.

"I thought it was going in. It must have been an
inch-and-a-half wide of that bottom right corner," Quinzani said.

Ten seconds earlier, Hopkins goalie Jesse Schwartzman blocked a
shot by Brad Ross.

After the clock expired, the Blue Jays celebrated and the Blue
Devils (17-3) gathered in a somber huddle in front of their bench.

"Last year just made us a tighter group," Quinzani said.
"That's why so many of us are so emotional right now."

Duke came up short, but could take consolation in at least
playing the game. One year earlier, their season ended after a loss
to Cornell on March 21.

"Coach reminded us what a great season it was and that we
should be proud of ourselves," senior Ed Douglas said, "but
certainly it hurts." Ned Crotty scored three goals for the Blue
Devils, who came into the game with a school-record 12-game winning
streak -- a run that included an 11-9 win over Hopkins on April 7.

Jake Byrne scored four goals, and Paul Rabil had a goal and five
assists for Hopkins.

Duke trailed 10-4 at halftime, then blanked Hopkins in the third
period and closed to 10-9 entering the final period.

Quinzani started the comeback by scoring with 10:50 left in the
third quarter, and Crotty scored 24 seconds later. Goals by Ross,
Mike Catalino and Peter Lamade followed, getting the Blue Devils to
10-9 with 5:21 left in the period.

Rabil ended Hopkins' drought early in the fourth quarter, but
Matt Danowski answered with 12:29 left, setting the stage for the
exciting finish.

Byrne scored four goals in the first half, and the Blue Jays
outshot Duke 27-12 and won 12 of 16 faceoffs.

Hopkins needed only 12 seconds to get the game's first goal and
led 4-2 after the first period. The Blue Jays won all seven
faceoffs in the opening quarter and limited Duke to only four
shots.