SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- As his players hugged, danced and rolled on the turf, Towson State University lacrosse coach Carl Runk stood on the sideline motionless with a blank look on his face.
"I just can't believe it," said Runk. "Here we are, little old Towson State, and we're going to be playing for the national championship Monday."
Towson's dream became reality yesterday. The Tigers scored four of the game's last five goals in the final 10 minutes to defeat No. 7 seed Maryland, 15-11, in a semifinal of the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I tournament before 14,544 at the Carrier
In doing so, Towson (12-3) became only the second 11th-seeded team since the tournament started in 1971 to advance to the championship game. Cornell was the other, losing to Syracuse in the 1988 championship game. The Tigers will meet undefeated and No. 1-ranked North Carolina (15-0), a 19-13 winner over Syracuse in the other semifinal, for the national title tomorrow at noon at the Carrier Dome.
"I thought at the beginning of the year, with the transfers and some of the new people, we would be strong, but I never thought we would be in the national championship game," said Towson attackman Glenn Smith, who paced the Tigers with four goals.
"But we have confidence in ourselves now," Smith said. "We know North Carolina has a great team, and we'll have to be at our best to win, but they are beatable. We're very aware of that."
Yesterday's win was the third in a row Towson has had to pull out in the last quarter. But unlike previous wins over No. 6 seed Virginia and No. 3 seed Princeton, Towson simply dominated the final period, led by seven saves from goalie Richard Betcher. Betcher had one great save with his left foot of a shot by Chris Dail with 7 minutes, 11 seconds left in the game that would have brought Maryland within 12-11.
"That was the turning point," said Betcher.
Betcher finished with 15 for the game, and avenged a 17-16 loss to Maryland early in the season when he stopped only five shots.
Betcher was not the only Towson player who felt redemption yesterday. Smith and midfielder Lindsay Dixon had missed the first Towson-Maryland game because of eligibility problems.
"The difference in the first game to the one we played today was Ritchie Betcher," said Maryland coach Dick Edell, whose team finished 10-5. "When we played them earlier, we could have gotten a beach ball in. Today, he made some outstanding saves."
Neither team could gain much of an advantage in the first three periods, as Towson managed a 9-7 lead with 6:50 left in the third period. But Maryland pulled to 10-9 at the end of the period, and Terps attackman Mark Douglas (four goals) tied the score at 10 only 51 seconds into the fourth period.
Then Towson took control. Midfielder Tim Barger, running to his right, beat Maryland defender Brian Burlace for a goal from 15 yards out to give Towson an 11-10 lead with 9:18 remaining.
Maryland faceoff specialist Andy Claxton won the ensuing faceoff, but as he attempted to pass to teammate and goalie Steve Kavovit, Towson attackman Mike DeSimone intercepted the pass and scored on an empty-net goal from 30 yards out.
Towson midfielder Doug Sharetts scored on a 15-yard underhand shot that put the Tigers up, 13-10, with 5:45 remaining.
The three-goal lead would have been sufficient for most teams, but not Towson. Maryland attackman Chris Dail scored with 5:04 left, but Smith sealed the win with his fourth goal with 3:31 left.
"I've lost a lot of weight in the last three weeks," said Runk. "But we're not a blue-chip team, we're a blue-collar team. We have to work for everything we get."
"I tried not to think about missing the first game," said Smith. "The stakes were much bigger this time. All I knew is that if we won, we were going to the championship game. And now, we're there."
Edell, a former assistant to Runk at Towson, said: "Our performance today was indicative of the way we have played all year. We played extremely hard, but at times not as well as we wanted to. On this day, Towson State was a superior team."