COLLEGE PARK - Johns Hopkins coach John Haus sank into a crouch and stared at the soggy Byrd Stadium turf, as the final seconds of Johns Hopkins' season ticked off the game clock.
The Blue Jays, so close to their first NCAA lacrosse championship game since 1989, had pulled even with Syracuse and had missed a chance to take a late lead that might have finished the Orangemen. But Syracuse, showing the pedigree of a program that lives for Final Four challenges, overcame penalty problems, sloppy conditions and a stubborn Hopkins team that trailed nearly all day, before supplying two back-breakers in front of 24,105.
First, Syracuse senior attackman Ryan Powell fed attackman Michael Springer with a fast-break pass, which Springer converted from 8 yards out after beating defenseman Brendan Shook with 2:23 left. Then, midfielder Tim Byrnes scored an open-net goal with 20 seconds remaining to clinch a 14-12 victory that sent Hopkins home and left Haus standing alone on the sideline, arms folded, staring into space.
Syracuse, after its first national title since 1995, will face Princeton in tomorrow's championship game. Hopkins was left to ponder an eight-game winning streak that ended in agony on the game's largest stage once again. The Blue Jays, who have not won a championship since 1987, failed for the sixth time since 1992 to advance beyond the semifinals.
"My team right now is in a lot of pain, and rightfully so. They did everything I asked of them," said Haus, the second-year Blue Jays coach who lost his second straight in the semifinals.
"Now it's time for the coach to step up and get this team to the next level. I feel for them and the effort they put in. They didn't end up in the championship game, and it's not their fault. My job is to get them to the championship game, and I didn't do it."
The Blue Jays might still be replaying the final five minutes of yesterday's thriller in their minds.
On a rainy day in which Syracuse never led by more than two goals, in a game in which senior midfielder A.J. Haugen carried the Blue Jays with a career-high five goals, Hopkins finally caught the Orangemen (14-1) when freshman midfielder Tim Muir bounced a 10-yard shot past Syracuse goalie Rob Mulligan with 4:53 left.
The first goal of Muir's career tied the score at 12, the first tie since a 6-6 deadlock early in the second quarter. And it merely set the stage for Syracuse to make another dramatic statement in May.
The Orangemen, playing in their 18th consecutive Final Four, answered at both ends of the field. First, following a slashing penalty by Jay Abendroth that put them in a man-down predicament for the 12th time, Mulligan stopped a low, 12-yard shot by Hopkins attackman Dan Denihan. That started the patented Syracuse fast break that did in the Blue Jays.
Powell, an All-American and one of three Orangemen to score three goals, got his second assist at a crucial time. He hit Springer (three goals, one assist), who slipped to his right past Shook, leaped in the air and blew a high, 8-yard shot past Hopkins goalie Brian Carcaterra to make it 13-12 with 2:23 left.
After Blue Jays midfielder Rob Frattarola (two goals) sent a 15-yard shot sailing past the cage, Mulligan - who made eight of his 14 saves in the fourth quarter - stuffed a point-blank attempt by freshman attackman Adam Doneger (two goals, two assists).
Syracuse cleared, called timeout with 54 seconds left, then forced Carcaterra to double-team the ball away from the net. Byrnes slipped past him from behind the cage, circled the crease on the left side, and stuck in the clincher.
"When I threw it to [Springer], I didn't like the pass from the start. Mike was covered pretty good," Powell said. "But he made a great catch and beat his defenseman."
Carcaterra, who had nine saves, including a tremendous stop of an attempt by Liam Banks (three goals) that preceded Muir's game-tying goal, thought Powell was going to take the critical shot.
"I thought Ryan was going to make a move to the pipe. I was in good position, so I had my attention focused on him. But then he laid the ball into Mike," Carcaterra said. "I guess [Springer] is already 6-3. Then he jumped up, and his arm was about nine feet in the air, and he brought [the shot] down and managed to fit in under the crossbar."
Hopkins could not have been much more resourceful in a contest that featured its share of nasty body checks in the mud that sent shooters sprawling.
The Blue Jays got whipped in the faceoff circle, losing 19 of 30 attempts, as Eric Wedin went just 9-for-28, while Syracuse specialist Chris Cercy - who scored two first-half goals after having one score on the season - won 17 of 28 attempts.
The Blue got only one goal out of Denihan, who was neutralized by defenseman John Glatzel. They were beaten to ground balls soundly by the Orangemen, and they converted on only two of 12 extra-man chances.
Still, the Blue Jays outshot Syracuse, 51-39, putting enormous pressure on Mulligan. And after taking their final lead at 4-3 late in the first quarter, then losing it on a 3-0 Syracuse run on goals by Banks, Cercy and Matt Caione, the Blue Jays never led again, but refused to fold.
"Our man-down was huge. Rob Mulligan especially did a nice job in the second half. We got the game we expected," Syracuse coach John Desko said.
Added Powell: "We've showed a lot of character. This team stays really patient. We don't ever really get that antsy. That's the way we've played all year."
Lacrosse final 4
At College Park
Syracuse 14, J. Hopkins 12 Princeton 12, Virginia 11
Syracuse (14-1) vs. Princeton (12-2), 10:55a.m., ESPN