Attackmen Justin Ward and Brian Schultz had put themselves in this game-winning situation at least a hundred times, first with the Maryland RoughRiders, their club team, and then later in college.
So when the situation presented itself, they delivered. Schultz took a quick cross-crease feed from Ward (Old Mill) to finish a fast break 12 seconds into the second overtime, and No. 1 Loyola Maryland defeated Navy, 7-6.
Schultz's goal finished off a play that started with a loose ball picked up at midfield by midfielder Brian Sherlock. Sherlock hurled a pass to the right of the goal to Ward, who then found Schultz. The goal touched off a wild celebration by the Greyhounds (10-1, 6-0 Patriot League), who survived a near-upset before an announced 4,422 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
"I throw that pass to him 10 times a day, every day in practice," said Ward. "I just held it a little longer to draw the slide and get him more space, but there he was cemented in that spot. He is always there."
That goal finally put away pesky Navy (4-6, 3-4), which has lost four of its last five. Few expected the Midshipmen to stay close with Loyola, but the Greyhounds didn't get their first lead until Ward's goal with 2:53 left in the third quarter gave them a 6-5 advantage.
Navy had two chances to pull off the upset, but attackman Tucker Hull's over-the-shoulder shot bounced off a post with 2:30 left in the first overtime, and midfielder Patrick Keena had another shot ricochet off a pipe nearly a minute later.
"Just that one bounce," said Navy coach Ricky Sowell, shaking his head in disbelief at Hull's shot. "If it zigs instead of zags, it's a different outcome. It's tough to hit a pipe and it doesn't go in. But as I say, those are the breaks."
It was a tough loss for the Mids — especially Sowell, who is in his third season of trying to turn Navy into a national power again. But Loyola coach Charley Toomey appeared more disappointed.
The Greyhounds didn't look like the nation's top team. They had 11 turnovers and forced a lot of bad passes. They lost 10 of 17 faceoffs and got off to a slow start, trailing 3-1 at the end of the first quarter.
In the last 5:18 of regulation, they got five good looks at the goal and failed to convert. Schultz bailed them out, but Loyola wasn't very good in crunch time. The Greyhounds' only consolation was that they won.
"I'm not so sure the right team [won] today," said Toomey. "We're walking out of the locker room right now and we're doing a little soul searching. "
Added Ward: "In the locker room, we talked about a sense of urgency. That is something we're still trying to find at this point in the season. We went though this in 2012, looking in terms of finding what it's going to take where we can peak going into May. I thought today's stickwork was pretty poor and we weren't throwing sharp passes, myself included."
Sowell can build off this game. In the first half, the Mids did a good job of matching up and drawing Loyola's short-stick midfielders. Navy ran some nice picks, and Hull and midfielder Gabe Voumard, who each finished with two goals, won some great one-on-one matchups outside the crease.
But no one on the field played better than Navy goalie John Connors, who finished with 14 saves. He had two in the last five minutes of regulation that were superb. With Navy trying to advance to the six-team Patriot League tournament and still having Johns Hopkins and Maryland on the schedule, Connors could carry the team.
"We played the No. 1 team in the country, and I feel we're right there," said Sowell. "We have a couple of big games in the next couple of weeks, and there is a lot of good we can take from the Navy side of things. Certainly if he continues to play at this high of a level, we should be in every game."
Navy got off to a strong start against Loyola as Hull scored 51 seconds into the game, but Sherlock tied the score about a minute and a half later. Navy scored twice in the final 7:38 of the period, first when Voumard converted on a shot while running to his right and then with 1:02 left as attackman Sam Jones (Severna Park) beat defender Pat Frazier from the left of the goal.
Loyola controlled the pace in the second quarter. The Greyhounds got within one goal twice, including at 4-3 when long-stick midfielder Ryan Fournier finished a fast break with 6:50 left in the half, but Navy maintained its lead, getting a clutch save by Connors on a shot by Schultz in the final second.