Towson State lacrosse coach Carl Runk searched hard fo words. He looked to the ground, then seemingly to the heavens. Finally, he reached a conclusion.
"Simply put, when they had to, Loyola didn't just make the play, they made fantastic plays to turn the momentum of the game," said a soft-spoken, emotionally drained Runk.
No. 7 Loyola, with its playoff aspirations on the line, pulled off a comeback with 10 second-half goals to defeat No. 8 Towson, 14-12, yesterday before a record crowd of 4,513 at Curley Field.
Towson State held an 8-1 lead with 10 minutes remaining in the second period, and all the signs were there for a Greyhounds collapse.
But instead of folding, Loyola's attack of Jim Blanding (five goals), Kevin Beach (three) and Chris Colbeck (three) took apart the Tigers defense with isolation plays in the last two quarters. Towson's offense went into a second-half fog, failing to score as Loyola's depth proved to be too much.
Colbeck scored the goal that tied the game at 12 with 9 minutes, 25 seconds left in the fourth period, and midfielder Gary Miller and Kevin Anderson scored within the next four minutes to finish the comeback.
"We needed this game for a lot of reasons," said Sean Smith, Loyola's attackman/midfielder. "This helped us gain a lot of confidence in ourselves, and it would have been really hard if we had dropped this game. This may have been the game that turns our season around."
Loyola (5-2), which was tied with Syracuse for the No. 1 ranking in the preseason poll, has struggled all season, losing early leads. The low point came last Saturday when the Greyhounds had a four-goal lead with less than eight minutes left in the game and lost, 14-13, to Brown.
That loss left the Greyhounds with a lot of explaining to do since they had eight of 10 starters back from the team that lost to Syracuse in last year's championship game.
"It had been an intense week of practice," said Smith, alluding to the high expectations. "We looked at this as a do-or-die situation. You couldn't have imagined how tough it would have been to come back out here if we had lost."
The win puts Loyola in a comfortable position for the playoff drive with only Duke and the University of Maryland Baltimore County left on the schedule. Towson (3-2) still has to play Delaware, Hofstra, Navy and Johns Hopkins.
And the Tigers also need to find out what went wrong with their offense yesterday. They had success against Loyola's zones early, only to falter against basically the same defense in the second half.
Runk denied playing a deliberate style after getting the big lead.
"We never sat on the lead," said Runk, whose team scored three goals off the transition [two off faceoffs] in the first half. "We tried to play for 60 minutes, but we didn't want to get in a running game with them. We just didn't play with the same intensity in the second half as we did in the first. We squandered too many opportunities. What did we have, three offsides in the second half and the player inadvertently stepping out of bounds? That's four offensive possessions right there. Plus they kept using waves of players, and we were limited to who we could put in."
Attackman Glenn Smith disagreed: "After getting up 8-1, I thought our team felt we could be patient, but we took ourselves out of rhythm. I'm not trying to take anything away from Loyola, but we beat ourselves. We became too patient."
Loyola also showed patience in the third quarter. The quicker Greyhounds cleared out and let their attackmen go one-on-one. Beach beat defender Rich Regan to cut Towson's lead to 10-5 with 9:25 left in the third period. Then Colbeck isolated on Regan for another goal almost three minutes later. Beach came back to beat defender Kyle Kernan to pull Loyola within 10-7 with 6:10 remaining.
"We just wanted to come back one goal at a time," said Blanding. "When it got to 7-1, I stopped looking at the scoreboard. Then when the goals started coming, I had this feeling we could win. It was something I knew we could pull off."
Towson's only offense in the in the final three minutes of the third period were two goals by midfielder Rob Shek, who scored both times while driving to the goal.
Towson State 7 2 3 0 -- 12
Loyola 1 3 6 4 -- 14
Goals: T--Smith 3, Shek 3, Million 2, DeSimone, Blatchley, Barger, Sharretts. L--Blanding 5, Beach 3, Colbeck 3, Ervin, Miller, Anderson. Assists: T--DeSimone 3, Blatchley 2, Dixon 2, Shek, Millon. L--Colbeck 3, Ubriaco, Smith, Haas, Cantabene, Blanding, Beach. Saves: T--Betcher 15. L--Dunnigan 11. Shots: T-- 32. L--38. Faceoffs: T--13. L--17. Penalties: T--2 for 1:30. T--3 for 3:00. Ground balls: L--51. T--46.