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Sunday Brunch: Irish Defense on Full Display

March 4, 2017

By John Heisler

Buy the notion that Notre Dame has built a good share of its recent national men’s lacrosse reputation around a particularly high level of defensive play–and a list of all-star Irish goaltenders and defensemen attest to that–then the dominating shutdown performance Saturday against potent, high-flying Maryland in a 5-4 victory over the unbeaten and top-rated Terps should come as no surprise.

Even so, Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan and his staff couldn’t have executed a defensive game plan much better than their players did at a jam-packed Arlotta Stadium on a sunny but chilly (30 degrees at game time) afternoon in South Bend.

Notre Dame simply kept Maryland out of its element at every turn. The Irish defended, kept the Terps in front of them, communicated, slid and rode effectively. They never gave last year’s NCAA runner-up any chance at the sort of fast-break, odd-man rushes on which Maryland thrives.

That brought plenty of smiles to everybody in the Irish camp as Notre Dame knocked off a top-rated foe for the first time since a home win over Syracuse two seasons ago.

“It was an ugly game with two teams that pride themselves on how hard and tough they play,” said Corrigan after it was over.

“The game didn’t leave much room for easy plays to be made. We were able to take them out of the home-run plays they’ve been making all year in transition. We forced them to do something they haven’t done much of this year and that’s play six on six, and then we got some tremendous one-on-one defensive efforts to make it hard for them.

`It wasn’t a great day for us shooting or handling the ball, but we made just enough plays. The ground-ball plays we made today exhibited a great competitiveness and it speaks well for games down the line.”


As Corrigan offered some last-minute reminders to his squad in the locker room moments before the first face-off, he made certain to put the challenge in perspective:

“Real simple message today, fellas. We’ve talked all week about what they do well. And that’s my nature–I want to make sure we’re prepared for everything they do. But here’s the deal–they’ve gotta play us, too. Let’s go play our game.”

It did not take fans long to sense the sort of game it would be. Maryland turned the ball over on four of its first five possessions–and the Terps needed more than four minutes for their first shot (Notre Dame needed five).

The most entertaining parts of the game all afternoon probably were the many fierce fights for ground balls. Notre Dame won 31 to 26 for Maryland.

Maryland hadn’t been held to less than 10 goals since a year ago when the same two teams played (a 9-4 Irish victory) and from the jump Saturday it appeared accounting for double figures on either side of the scoreboard would be a reach.

Still, these teams came in averaging 16 (Notre Dame) and 15.5 goals (Maryland), respectively.

The Irish couldn’t convert a few early chances on the doorstep–including potential layups by freshman Peter Gayhardt and Brendan Collins–but credit Maryland goaltender Dan Morris for some of that (he finished with a career-high 13 saves).

Maryland grabbed a 1-0 lead on a Dylan Maltz goal at 10:03 of the second period–until sophomore middie Brendan Gleason tied it with the shot clock on at 5:59. Exactly a minute later Ryder Garnsey connected perfectly with a streaking Mikey Wynne and Notre Dame led 2-1 at intermission.

The halftime stats explained the strategy and storyline perfectly. Maryland had more turnovers (10) than shots (eight). The Terps’ vaunted DMC attack group (Maltz, Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock) had combined for one goal, one assist, four shots on goal and seven turnovers.

“With only a couple of exceptions our defense in transition has done a fantastic job,” Corrigan said to his team. “We got behind the ball and made the plays we needed to make in terms of taking transition away from them. Keep that up. We’ve done a fabulous job in a lot of areas of the game, even though we haven’t been as patient offensively as we need to be.

“But it’s the first time in a big game like this early in the year and both teams are hyped up–so let’s settle in, make the plays we need to make and finish this off.”

Maryland tied it at two four minutes into the third period after multiple offside penalties gave the Terps a six-on-four advantage. Garnsey required all of 48 seconds to give Notre Dame the lead again on a ridiculous angle shot from right of the goal. After Maryland tied it at three, freshman Bryan Costabile made it 4-3 22 seconds later by creating space 12 yards from the net.

After three periods the visitors had 15 shots and the same number of turnovers (11 caused by Notre Dame).

When Gleason fought through traffic to score at 12:33 of the fourth period and give the Irish a 5-3 edge, the advantage almost felt insurmountable given the way the Irish defense was playing.

The Terps pulled their goalie late and that helped account for their final tally with 18 seconds left.

And the game ended in fitting fashion when Maryland, after apparently winning the last faceoff, had the ball checked away from behind by Wynne.

The DMC line ended with a combined two goals, two assists, six shots on goal and 12 turnovers.

The Irish countered with 13 caused turnovers–four by veteran senior defender Garrett Epple (plus six ground balls), three by sophomore middie Drew Schantz, two by all-purpose long-stick John Sexton.

Maryland came in having scored at least 10 goals in 15 straight games, the best Terp streak in that category since 1986-87. Rambo had put at least six points on the board in six of his last seven games (he had one assist Saturday).

The Irish recorded their fourth straight series win over Maryland since 2014, this time against a 2017 Terp edition that hadn’t scored less than 12 goals in any of its four wins to date.

Said Corrigan in the postgame huddle: “There were a lot of things that did not go according to plan today, but here’s what did. We play so hard and so smart in the middle of the field, we got ground balls like crazy right up to the last play of the game. There are so many ways we can get better, but if we start with the heart and drive we showed today, the intelligence we played with today. . . .”

Back in the locker room in front of a bevy of recent Irish All-Americans and captains (Jim Marlatt, Matt Landis, Jack Near and Eddy Glazener, among others), the Irish head coach offered a few more thoughts:

“The biggest thing was the way we took them out of their game. They did not get any of those breaks. We had guys manning up and playing good defense. We kept them out of those four-on-three and six-on-five situations. The communication defensively was right from the beginning of the game.”

If Saturday’s most noteworthy assignment was about trying to paint a masterpiece on defense, the end product might be a candidate for the Louvre. No one in the Notre Dame camp had to say that–it was there to watch for two hours Saturday.

“So many things to build on, and we’ve still got a long way to go, but I like where we are,” said Corrigan. “Let’s stay with it and get back to work.”

The three teams ranked ahead of the Irish in the polls this week (Maryland, Denver and Johns Hopkins) all tasted their first defeats this weekend. Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s overall schedule, rated second nationally this week in the NCAA toughest-schedule standings, suggests there are formidable hurdles to confront all the rest of the way.

Added Corrigan in closing: “It doesn’t get any easier for us (the Irish next Sunday play at Denver, the number-one team in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll this week) and I wouldn’t want it to. How much fun was that? Playing in games like this is what it’s all about.”

Senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been covering the Notre Dame athletics scene since 1978. Watch for his weekly Sunday Brunch offerings on