In this year’s NCAA DIII men’s lacrosse national championship game between RIT and Salisbury, we witnessed an absolutely fantastic battle of wills. Right from the start, you had one team wanting to play fast and chaotic lacrosse, while the other wanted to control the tempo and methodically wear its opponent down.
Forget that RIT was chasing its program’s first title, forget that Salisbury’s seniors were trying to win their class’s only ring, forget all of that…because this was a lacrosse game played by two great teams, and the players on the field decided the winner today. History, records, and firsts had nothing to do with it.
RIT Takes First DIII Men’s Lacrosse Title in Unforgettable Fashion
The game opened with RIT winning the first face off via a false start, but that led to a slower settled possession, where Salisbury was able to earn a turnover. The Gulls proceeded to head right down the field, and Cross Ferrara scored a goal just 1:40 into the contest. RIT evened it up at one goal apiece pretty quickly with a faster-paced opportunity on the next possession as Marley Angus scored, and the contrast in styles was evident to anyone with a pulse. Also evident was that this game would be very, very enjoyable to watch.
The first few minutes were action packed, and almost as soon as it was 1-1, Salisbury went back up, 2-1, with a quick goal by Griffin Moroney, only adding to the electric tempo the contest already possessed. RIT, after winning possession, and by pressing the cage quickly, forced the Gulls to commit a penalty. RIT proceeded to tie it right back up at two off a Dawson Tait strike. It was control ball versus chaos lacrosse from the get go, and RIT was looking in control of the overall chaotic pace. Another quick score from RIT, this time by Quinn Commandant, put the Tigers up, 3-2. Each team had already held a lead (momentarily at least), and the game had been tied three times.
With RIT up one and a frenetic battle for loose balls, it looked like the Tigers would have their way with the tempo battles. But a costly penalty on the ride gave Salisbury a chance to show out offensively, and it did not disappoint, creating a beautiful quick strike on the man advantage, giving Moroney a picture perfect shot opportunity. Salisbury shooters rarely miss shots this good, and this was no exception.
Following a solid defensive stand, RIT drew an offside penalty, but Commandant scored in transition before the flag was needed, and RIT went back up, 4-3. Salisbury then had a nice long possession, but RIT caused a turnover and looked to be pushing transition. Salisbury’s counter ride kept a dangerous situation from evolving, and the Gulls went back on offense, slowly prodding the D and trying to exploit one-on-one matchups. SU was unable to convert, RIT couldn’t make good on a legit chance to end the quarter, and the first 15 minutes saw RIT emerge with the 4-3 lead, and a slight edge in the chaos versus control aspect of the game.
Salisbury got the first good chance of the second quarter, but Walker Hare turned away the effort. A good hustle play got the ball back for the Tigers, and after a nice little possession of their own, the RIT ball movement got Quinn Commandant a clean look, and he put it past TJ Ellis with sneaky velocity. Down 5-3, Salisbury got a much-needed face off win from Eoghan Sweeney, trying to settle the game back down. A good possession ended up in a turnover with RIT looking dangerous again, but the Gulls counter not only earned the ball back, it also drew a penalty. Moroney got a step up top and let loose a low lefty bouncer to bring the Gulls back within one at 5-4, the push penalty was erased, and RIT would go on to win the ensuing draw.
Almost out of nowhere, Quinn Commandant sold a nice backdoor cut and blew by an overextended defense to catch a nice pass and smoothly score to quickly put the Tigers back up by two. With Salisbury winning the next face off, the Gulls moved the ball around a bit before getting back on the Moroney train. A nice shot off a screen gets SU back within one, and all of a sudden, both Griffin Moroney and Quinn Commandant had each scored four goals, and each had done so on four shots. Before you could blink, Salisbury’s Jack Dowd scored a physical fundamental goal, and the game was tied up at six with just under eight minutes left. After another flag on RIT, but before the slash call is actually called, Josh Melton scores and Salisbury is up, 7-6. It looked like the tide had turned in the Gulls’ favor.
So of course, RIT’s Nick Montemorano won the ensuing man-down draw forward for the Tigers, Salisbury doesn’t slide, so Montemorano pushed down the lane and scored on a mini jumper, knotting the game at seven. A false start on Salisbury gave RIT the ball back, the Tigers killed the rest of the penalty, and then gave the ball back after a good defensive double by SU. A suspect clear worked out for Salisbury, but only momentarily as Walker Hare made a quick save and RIT was back on the offensive end pushing a chaotic tempo. Matt Wiechers let a bouncer loose as he got topside and across the face of the goal and skipped it into the top shelf to put the Tigers back up, 8-7.
RIT earned another chance at the O end and had a solid possession, earning a reset and then a push to retain possession, but the Salisbury defense once again answered the bell, picking off a pass and clearing the ball without any issues. SU got a good look, but Walker Hare was there, and RIT’s ability to answer with transition proved deadly, going up 9-7. After acquiring the ball yet again, RIT called timeout with just 1:26 left in the first half and 73 seconds left on the shot clock. The Tigers let the clock wind all the way down to about 20 seconds before really going to the cage, and Salisbury shut it down to earn a shot clock violation.
Drew Apgar cleared the ball and skipped a shot through a crowd of players, but Walker Hare tracked it, and the half ended with RIT holding a two-goal edge. The battle of chaos lacrosse versus control ball continued throughout the first half, with RIT earning a slight edge in the game’s pace, tempo, and score. Salisbury had 19 shots to RIT’s 15 and held a 16-15 edge in ground balls, but Walker Hare was making big saves, RIT was making good on its chances on the O end, and Salisbury didn’t look 100% comfortable on the defensive side.
RIT won the first face off of the second half and moved the ball around well, with Dawson Tait almost putting one away. TJ Ellis made a nice save, but RIT kept possession. A bad shot after two minutes of possession allowed for an easy save from Ellis, and Salisbury broke the RIT ride. But SU’s first possession resulted in an over and back, and the RIT offense went right back to work. Yet another nice save from Ellis gave SU another chance, and the confidence that this game was far from over. Jack Dowd then launched a missile of a bounce shot past Hare to pull the Gulls within one, with RIT now leading 9-8.
Cross Ferrara almost tied the game up for Salisbury, but RIT recovered and cleared with five minutes elapsed in the third quarter. RIT earned a reset, but the Salisbury defense looked more comfortable than it had all game. Maybe it was half time adjustments, maybe it was just settling in, but early in the third quarter, the SU defense pressed out confidently and effectively. With 7:34 left in the period, RIT went man up on a hold call. While the Gulls were tested, the defense answered and collapsed, forcing another turnover. RIT made the clear interesting, and then an unforced turnover put Salisbury on its heels before it created another turnover, this time via yard sale… and THEN Moroney scored a low lefty laser from the middle to tie it up at nine. Salisbury was proving it too could play a little chaos ball.
It took nine minutes and 30 seconds of second half game play before we finally got our first goal after the break, and a little jawing between players afterwards led to RIT taking possession without a face off, and before long, Larson Sundown ripped one by Ellis, and RIT was back up, 10-9. Soon after, Salisbury’s Pierre Armstrong took the ball from behind, moved up the wing with speed, and ripped a low shot past Hare. After three goals in about a minute, the game was tied at 10-10.
Looking to retake the lead for the first time since early in the game, Salisbury won the ensuing draw and put a decent shot on right away. Garrett Bromwell would follow that effort up with one that hit the net, and all of a sudden, the Gulls were up 11-10. Control ball had taken over the game, and the Gulls were flying high. It looked like SU would go up by two on the next possession, but Hare made a great save on Bromwell. RIT turned the ball back over quickly, and the SU tempo continued to rule.
With just 45 seconds left in the third quarter, Salisbury started to go to the goal and made good on the effort. But the score was called off on a crease violation. A push was called on RIT instead. Thirty seconds of man up and 23 seconds of quarter saw Salisbury press, but ultimately the quarter ended without a goal. Starting with the ball in the fourth and up a goal, the Gulls were positioning themselves well for a final quarter of lacrosse.
Making good on that positioning, Salisbury scored to go up 12-10 before earning yet another turnover, almost as if proving a point. While RIT got the ball back eventually and got off a solid shot, Ellis was there once again. It looked like SU might turn this into an SU game, but the RIT ride delivered when the Tigers needed it most. A chaotic bounce put the ball in Dawson Tait’s stick, and the score difference was back to one, with Salisbury leading just 12-11.
A long face off ground battle saw Salisbury win possession, but RIT was flying around on the lacrosse field, showing good fight. Salisbury’s Cross Ferrara would then use a right-handed alley dodge from up top to put the ball by Hare’s left shoulder utilizing an overhand shot, and Malamphy took the next face off, giving SU the ball, a 13-11 lead, and a confident position. However, with just fewer than 10 minutes left, RIT picked off a pass and quickly pushed the ball up the field and behind. The possession ended with a Ryan Rosenblum goal off a righty sweep dodge right down the middle where the SU defense failed to collapse.
RIT’s Ryan Barnable followed up Rosenblum’s goal with a score of his own after the Tigers won the draw. Barnable did a wonderful job of getting to the middle, throwing fakes under pressure and finishing. Salisbury won the ensuing draw and slowed it way down – just kidding! With just more than seven minutes to go and the score knotted at 13, Bromwell added another big goal on an incredible shot, and the Gulls were back up by a score.
An RIT face-off win led to an ugly turnover and a near-thrilling ride, but Salisbury weathered the storm as Ellis made a big play to put the Gulls back on O. With a little more than five minutes remaining in regulation, Hare made a high-quality save, but the Salisbury ride earned the ball back this time. After milking the clock and some chaos, SU finally got a good shot off with just more than 3:30 left, but Walker Hare made a clean save. A quick press offense turned the ball over for RIT, and Salisbury took back over, calling timeout with two-and-a-half minutes to go in the game and a one-goal lead, 14-13.
Salisbury milked the clock down quite a bit again, but its offensive overtures didn’t pay off until late in the shot clock, and only by chance. SU managed a good shot out of some chaos, but Hare turned it away, RIT’s Taylor Jensen corralled the rebound, RIT cleared the ball successfully, and Jake Coon called timeout with 1:18 left in the game, 66 ticks left on the shot clock, and only down by one goal.
The next 20 seconds proved to provide some of the most chaotic lacrosse of the entire game, with RIT almost losing the ball via a great takeaway check but regaining possession off a slap pass. The Tigers completed a high cross field pass and got off a great shot, which was saved, BUT they got the ball back off the rebound. They called timeout again. That all happened in under 20 seconds.
Coming out of the time out, Salisbury’s defense was once again called to make what seemed like a final stand, and it answered. It created yet another takeaway, but an offsides call gave RIT the ball back. After a fast restart and a couple quick passes, RIT put the ball away, and we were tied at 14 goals apiece. Who else could have scored it but Quinn Commandant? Madness.
Salisbury was awarded the ball on a face-off violation, and with 12.1 seconds left, Jim Berkman called timeout to draw up some final moment action. It was quick and simple, and it worked with Bromwell getting off a decent shot from the alley, but the RIT never-ever-give-up mentality meant that Hare would heave the ball down the field, which he did. RIT somehow managed to get a shot off, and while it missed the cage by a foot or more, it was a lot closer than anyone wearing gold would have preferred.
What time was it? Overtime! This game deserved nothing less!
RIT won the opening face off out of a chaotic sideline situation and got two really good chances at goal, but Salisbury was able to earn a turnover. However, a gutty ride for RIT got the ball back, and its offense went back to work. Another shot by Barnable went off the side of the net, and while Ellis didn’t make the save, he forced the shot and cleared the ball perfectly. Salisbury called time out with 2:06 left in overtime and 64 seconds on the shot clock, giving it a real chance to impose its brand of lacrosse on RIT in the final minutes.
Salisbury had two excellent shots off at the goal, but neither found the back of the net, with the second being a big rebound save by Hare, which was brought in by the RIT D. A quick clear and Jake Coon used his timeout. In atypical RIT fashion, the beginning of the possession was slow, with Marley Angus just holding the ball up top, waiting for the last shot. With just about 12 second left, Angus went to the cage, but Salisbury snuffed out the situation, and the game was headed to its second overtime period.
Salisbury won the draw, but a swarm of Tigers overwhelmed the ball carrier and eventually earned a turnover. The Tigers ran through their most conservative and controlled possession of the game, ultimately creating a great chance in short time but missing. Off the endline restart and with just about seven seconds left, Ryan Barnable caught an improbable Dawson Tait endline feed on the crease as he cut from side to side. Barnable finished the ball in the back of the net, delivering RIT the 15-14 double-overtime win and the program’s first-ever national championship in men’s lacrosse.
Congratulations, RIT Men’s Lacrosse!
As usual, the DIII men’s lacrosse national championship game lived up to the hype and was one of the best contests of the weekend. The fans were treated to an unrivaled display of skill, toughness, creativity, and athleticism – all from non-scholarship student-athletes. This is great lacrosse!
Congratulations to both teams on absolutely incredible seasons. There can only be one champion, and this year it took two overtime periods to settle it. A gigantic congrats goes to the RIT Tigers men’s lacrosse team! Enjoy the win, and get excited about 2022, because the season starts now. Well, tomorrow. The season starts tomorrow. Enjoy the win today!