Salisbury fell behind by six goals midway in the second period Sunday and never recovered as Tufts hung on for a 9-6 victory in the Division III men's lacrosse title game at M&T Bank Stadium, claiming the first NCAA championship in the school's history.
Tufts, located about five miles outside Boston, got some help from junior attackman D. J. Hessler (St. Paul's), who finished with a goal and four assists and was named the game's Most Valuable Player. Attackman Jamie Atkins had three goals and midfielder Doug DiSesa had two for the Jumbos (20-1).
Salisbury (21-2), the winner of eight NCAA championships, was led by Will Poletis' two goals. The problem, though, was that Poletis is a defensive midfielder, an indication of the Sea Gulls' offensive troubles Sunday.
Tufts cut off the trademark passes Salisbury likes to throw before going to the goal, especially near the crease. Salisbury seemed to be in a hurried state all game.
"I don't know if it was the stage today or not, but we weren't getting those six or seven passes before a goal; we weren't getting what we would call a Salisbury goal," Sea Gulls coach Jim Berkman said. "After we gave up those goals early, we had every opportunity to get back in the game, but we didn't get it done offensively."
Salisbury had defensive problems, too, especially in the first quarter. The Tufts offense was multidimensional. The Sea Gulls had problems matching up with the Jumbos' midfield, and they also couldn't contain Tufts' cutters around the crease, particularly Atkins.
After Tufts took a 3-1 lead with 9:45 left in the first quarter, attackmen Ryan Molloy, Atkins and DiSesa scored goals for a 6-1 lead at the end of the first period. Molloy's and Atkins' goals came at the top of the crease from feeds behind the goal.
"There were three keys to the game. No. 1 was taking care of the crease," Berkman said. "Even if we were to go a little late, we might give up some goals, but we wanted to cover the crease. We didn't do it."
Salisbury trailed 7-1 with 8:07 left in the half but scored the last three goals of the second quarter. Salisbury's Jake DeLillo pulled the Sea Gulls to 7-5 on a goal with 11:57 remaining in the third quarter, but Salisbury didn't present Tufts with a serious challenge for the rest of the game.
Jumbos attackman Sean Kirwan scooped up a loose ball with 4:09 left in the third period for an 8-5 lead, and Atkins pretty much sealed the win with another goal with 10:48 left in the game.
There was still plenty of time for the Sea Gulls to rally, but it wasn't to be for a team that went more than 22 minutes without a goal twice during the game. Salisbury's defense, especially goalie Johnny Rodriguez, went to sleep for most of the first half, and the offense was out of sync for the second.
"We weren't passing the ball, weren't slinging it," Salisbury midfielder Sam Bradman said. "We weren't capitalizing on offense, and we got a little selfish at times. You have to give them credit as well because they played one hell of a game."
Rodriguez said: "The defense, including myself, came out lackadaisical."
Poletis scored Salisbury's final goal of the game with 2:58 left.
DIVISION III FINAL
Tufts 9, Salisbury 6
T 6 1 1 1 — 9
S 1 3 1 1 — 6
Goals: T—Atkins 3; DiSesa 2; Hessler; Witko; Kirwan; Molloy; S—Poletis 2; DeLillo; Burgasser; Winter; Zordan. Assists: T—Hessler 4; S—Bradman; Burgasser; DeLillo. Saves: T—Foglietta 13; S—Rodriguez 11.