COLLEGE PARK -- Syracuse senior attackman Matt Riter had gone through the play hundreds of times on the field and through his mind.
The game is tied, but the Orangemen get a fast break in the final minute. Riter runs to a seam. He gets the ball on the crease. He scores. Fans go crazy. His teammates mob him.
"Wake me up. Somebody always has to wake me out of that dream," said Riter.
They had to pinch Riter again yesterday -- his dream came true.
Riter's fast-break goal with eight seconds left gave Syracuse a 13-12 win over North Carolina for the NCAA Division I lacrosse championship before 20,117 at Byrd Stadium.
"Right now, I still don't know where I am," Riter said shortly after the game.
Actually, he was in exclusive company. It was the Orangemen's fifth national championship, second only to Johns Hopkins' seven on the all-time list.
The winning goal is a moment that will live in Riter's memory forever. The score was tied with 20 seconds left in the game, and Carolina midfielder T. J. Shimaitis had the ball just outside Syracuse's defensive zone.
Shimaitis tried to pass to attackman John Webster, but it was knocked down by Syracuse defenseman Hans Schmid.
Orangemen midfielder Charlie Lockwood picked up the ball near midfield with 12 seconds left, and then passed to Riter, who scored from the goalie's right side on the crease.
"We practice unsettled situations every day in practice," said Riter. "As soon as the ball went on the ground, I broke to the seam and Charlie got me the ball. I prayed to God that it went in because I hesitated and then went to the goalie's weak side."
Riter probably shouldn't have been that open. Carolina defenseman Alex Martin was with him, but once the ball hit the ground, Martin went for the ball while Riter broke for the goal.
"I left Riter to try and stay with the ball," said Martin. "I felt I had to do that. But in hindsight, I should have stayed with him."
Martin wasn't the only Tar Heel second-guessing himself. Why didn't Carolina coach Dave Klarmann call a timeout to set up a play with 20 seconds left once the Tar Heels got past midfield?
"I know I'll be questioned about not calling a timeout, but I thought we could settle and score," said Klarmann. "But you can't just point to one play. This game was going to be a one-goal game no matter what."
It was a great game, almost even in every category. Syracuse had 66 shots. Carolina had 56. Tar Heels goalie Gary Lehrman was great with 18 saves. Syracuse goalie Chris Surran was even better with 20. The Orangemen won 72 ground balls; Carolina won 58. Both teams scored two extra-man goals and won 14 faceoffs.
"I think it was good for the game today," said Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr. "I think people out there were applauding the lacrosse, not particularly the blue or orange. Any time you get the Heels and Orange together, you are going to have exciting contests. We know they're explosive, and so are we."
But even as Simmons became the only coach to win five national championships, he was being asked if he will be back with the Orangemen next season.
After 23 years coaching Syracuse, Simmons' job is in jeopardy because of allegations that the Orangemen violated several NCAA regulations in the late 1980s.
"That's not my call," said Simmons, when asked if he would return as coach next season. "Our alumni, our supporters, they still know I have the fire in me. They [school administrators] will probably let me know something in another month once the investigation is completed. I don't think the charges will stick.
"I think the kids stayed focused, and they weren't going to be thrown off the scent. They can't take this one [championship] away. We won it fair and square, from top to bottom. They can't take this away from the kids."
Syracuse (12-2) came out quick, taking 25 shots and a 5-3 lead in the first quarter. The Tar Heels (14-2) scored the last two goals of the half for an 8-7 lead.
Syracuse made a run, scoring the first three goals of the third period, but Carolina's Webster and attackman Steve Speers scored in the last eight minutes to tie the game at 10-10 at the end of the quarter.
Syracuse had a 12-10 lead with 3:45 left in the game, but North Carolina refused to give up. Tar Heels attackman Jason Wade scored with1:56 left, and midfielder Donnie McNichol scored on a runner past Syracuse midfielder John Barr with 1:24 remaining to tie the game at 12.
The Orangemen won the ensuing faceoff and put pressure on Lehrman. Attackman Casey Donegan fired high over the cage with 1:11 left, and attackman Jamie Archer was wide right on a follow shot. Defenseman Chad Smith then tried an Air Gait move with 1:05 left, and Riter tried another side Air Gait with 22 seconds remaining. Both failed.
The shooting series was vintage Syracuse. The Orangemen pride themselves on running, gunning and making big plays even if they backfire.
But there was no backfiring yesterday, only a team that has been on a mission since losing to Princeton, 10-9, in double overtime in the championship game last year.
"We lost back-to-back games earlier this year for the first time in a decade," said Simmons.
"But these seniors are going out unlike last year," he added. "They're going out with the gold and a smile on their face."