Navy badly needed a late spark last night. Senior midfielder Graham Gill gave it to the eighth-ranked Midshipmen, and as a result, the No. 7 Maryland Terrapins are reeling.
Gill, who had been in a horrible shooting slump, scored three goals to produce his first hat trick of the season. But it was his work in the final minutes that ruined Maryland's night.
First, Gill tied the game with 2:02 left on a close shot from a nearly impossible angle on the side of the cage. Then, with 14 seconds left, Gill beat defensive midfielders Ryan Clarke and Travis Holmes and scored from 5 yards out to lift the Midshipmen to a crucial, 9-8 victory before 14,124, the third-largest crowd ever to witness a lacrosse game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
The victory jump-started the season for Navy (8-2), which had not beaten a team currently ranked in the Top 20 before last night, and was coming off a disheartening, 11-6 loss to fourth-ranked Georgetown.
Maryland (5-4), which got a hat trick from junior attackman Joe Walters, erased a third-quarter, 6-3 deficit with a three-goal flurry in 52 seconds, then took an 8-7 lead on back-to-back goals by junior midfielder Brendan Healy midway through the fourth period. It was a bitter loss that endangered its playoff hopes.
The Terps, who dropped their third game in four tries, play host to top-ranked Johns Hopkins next week, and are staring at their first 5-5 start since 1994.
For Gill, last night was a long time coming. He entered the game with seven goals on 14.9 percent shooting.
"When it comes down to it, somebody needs to make a play," Gill said. "That's just a good, hard win that can change the tide of a season right there. The number one goal this week was to play a lot harder and a lot tougher, like the Navy teams of the past."
The Mids, who also got two goals each from senior attackman Ben Horn and junior midfielder Steve Looney, played plenty hard in a typically physical contest that was nasty right down to the last hit.
After Navy senior defenseman Mitch Hendler scooped up the last ground ball of the contest and ran down the right sideline, he was knocked to the ground as time expired and suffered a concussion after a cross check by Maryland faceoff specialist David Tamberrino. He was assessed a two-minute major penalty.
The Mids, who have beaten Maryland in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1980-81, did what they had to do.
They capitalized on Maryland fouls by scoring on four of five extra-man opportunities. They got 10 saves from junior goalkeeper Matt Russell, who suffered a severely sprained ankle after tripping over a curb Wednesday night and almost did not play. They made coach Richie Meade proud after he questioned their heart this week.
"I felt like everybody responded. I'm pleased with the team, with the way they handled adversity," Meade said. "Graham is a senior. He may have played his best game as a Navy Midshipman when we needed it most. It's crunch time for us. If we were going to step into the arena and have a chance to have a great season, we had to win this game."
"[Navy] battled. We battled. Their big-time players stepped up," Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. "We made enough good plays to win it. We made enough bad plays to lose by one. We'll get better because of this game. We going to have to. We've got to beat Hopkins."
The teams played to a 3-3 tie at the half.
Navy junior attackman Jon Birsner scored on a spectacular, leaping shot on the extreme left wing to give the Mids a 7-6 lead with 11:26 left in the game. That would be Navy's last lead until Gill's heroics.
Maryland 1 2 3 2 - 8
Navy 2 1 3 3 - 9
Goals: MD-Walters 3, B. Healy 2, Ritz, McGlone, Tamberrino; N-Gill 3, Horn 2, S. Looney 2, Birsner, Wallin. Assists: MD-B. Healy 2, Ritz; N-Birsner, Horn, Mirabito, Pieczonka. Saves: MD-Alford 6; N-Russell 10.