May 15, 2016
By John Heisler
Bachman-Turner Overdrive should have provided the music of choice in the postgame locker room for the University of Notre Dame men’s lacrosse team Saturday night.
That’s because “Takin’ Care of Business” proved the prevailing theme for the Irish in their workmanlike 15-7 NCAA Championship first-round triumph over 12th-rated Air Force at Arlotta Stadium.
Score 15 goals and smashing an opponent’s 15-game winning streak doesn’t seem so difficult.
Those 15 goals tied for the most scored by Notre Dame in an NCAA outing (matching a 15-13 first-round upset win over Loyola in 2000). And with the free-wheeling offense doing its thing, the defense put up a 20:42 scoreless streak for the Falcons (while the Irish scored five times in a row) and that followed another string of five straight in the second period that made it 9-3 just before intermission.
A few weeks ago, the experts were wondering if the Irish had enough offensive diversity and firepower to fuel an NCAA run. Now Notre Dame has scored 13 or more goals in three of its last four games (starting with 15 at North Carolina). A season-high-tying nine players earned spots in the goal-scoring column Saturday.
Here’s more of the collateral damage left behind on the Arlotta turf:
–Notre Dame’s nine first-half goals tied for the most in a half in 2016 by the Irish (also nine in the first half at Syracuse).
–The six second-period Irish tallies tied for the most in a Notre Dame period in 2016 (also in the second quarter at Syracuse and the third at North Carolina). The Falcons did not make a save in goal in that second period.
–The 15 goals qualified as two more than allowed in any other Air Force game by its Southern Conference Defensive Player of the Year, goaltender Doug Gouchoe. The Irish put a dent in numbers that had made the Falcons the third-ranked defense in the country.
–The only team to hold the Falcons to fewer than the seven goals allowed Saturday by the Irish was Navy back on Feb. 6 in a season-opening 10-6 win over Air Force.
–Notre Dame sophomore midfielder Brendan Collins had a career night with five points. His four assists marked the fourth 2016 individual Irish effort of four or more assists (all three others by Matt Kavanagh). Maybe his most impressive play of the year came late in the first period when he fought through a Falcon double-team and found Mikey Wynne for the goal that gave the Irish the lead for good.
–Speaking of Kavanagh, the senior captain finished with three points (two assists)-yet it was a bit reassuring to think the Irish could survive so comfortably without their veteran having to produce off-the-chart numbers. His one goal early in the second period came when he ended up all by himself after Sergio Perkovic drew the defense in his direction.
–Air Force had to think it had a solid to chance to win if it could hold All-Americans Kavanagh and Perkovic to a goal apiece (and the Falcons did that). Wynne and Ryder Garnsey filled the gap with a combined eight tallies.
–Speaking of Perkovic, the Falcons generally did a nice job limiting his opportunities, holding him to a single shot on goal. However, that one shot was a wide-open fastball after a Falcon freshman defender (Brandon Jones) slipped-and the discouraging (for Air Force) result made it 7-3 for Notre Dame (the middle score in the five-goal Irish run).
–After that Perkovic goal, the Georgia lacrosse Twitter account directed a post to this effect to the Notre Dame junior: “Heard your pregame meal is 12 raw rib-eye steaks and a gallon of motor oil-please confirm.”
–Speaking of Garnsey, the freshman seems to have added a valuable dose of confidence in recent weeks and games. He plays with a flair-and that added emotion doesn’t hurt. He made one particularly impressive play midway through the second period, somehow maneuvering in heavy traffic to grab a rebound after a Kavanagh miss and score. That began a spree of three Garnsey goals in 3:59 and forced an Air Force timeout.
–Air Force sophomore Chris Walsch came in with 62 points and as the recently decorated Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Notre Dame’s defense kept him off the scoreboard until a late second-period goal (with the Irish already leading 9-3)-and his second goal came in the final 48 seconds with the result long determined.
–Saturday’s victory means the Irish are in the NCAA quarterfinal round for a seventh straight season. No other program in the nation can say that.
–Notre Dame’s man-up unit made the visitors pay dearly. The Falcons committed four major penalties and the Irish scored after three of those-the opening Irish goal by Wynne, Eddy Lubowicki’s score that made it 12-5 (the middle of five straight goals by Notre Dame) and another by Wynne that made it 15-6.
–On one bizarre play, Air Force was subject to a delayed penalty for too many men on the field-so the Falcons threw eight defenders onto that end of the field and Wynne still scored. That made it 14-5 and completed a five-goal Irish run.
–P.J. Finley won 15 of his 22 face-offs (the most wins by him since 16 in the 2016 opener against Georgetown).
The Irish seniors have put in four years of work to get to this point. This 2016 unit has been together for nine months building toward the opportunities available in May.
“I don’t need to look at a stat sheet to know we played really good lacrosse,” said Irish coach Kevin Corrigan to his squad after the game. “It looked matter of fact because we did all the things we need to do to play at a high level at this time of year. We had it in spades tonight.”
Air Force coach Eric Seremet admitted the Irish played faster than maybe his squad anticipated (and that’s a good thing for Notre Dame).
“We were a step behind on some of their goals,” he said.
“They got dunks left and right,” said Gouchoe.
“This was a good night for us-just good, solid, smart lacrosse across the board,” added Corrigan in the interview room. “We rode well and even when they cleared it, it was disruptive. We haven’t had a lot of games where we had better ball movement and better ball-handling.”
The Irish now head to Columbus, Ohio, next weekend.
Notre Dame will meet conference rival North Carolina Sunday in the NCAA quarterfinals, so much will be made of the teams’ April 23 meeting in Chapel Hill (a 17-15 Tar Heel win).
All Corrigan cares about is finding ways for his team to play with the same poise and precision it displayed Saturday in its last appearance of the spring at Arlotta Stadium.
It’ll be all about a chance to take care of some additional business.
John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame. He is editor of the award-winning “Strong of Heart” series.