After Kelly McPartland scored the first goal of the half, All-Americans Taylor Cummings and Brooke Griffin took advantage of a sloppy Tar Heels pass to catch North Carolina's defense out of position and change the game's momentum.
After a pass over the head of Tar Heels goalie Megan Ward (St. Mary's) went out of bounds, Cummings got the ball near the end line and passed to Griffin, cutting back toward the goal and finishing to pull within 6-5. It was the first goal of the game for the South River graduate, the Terps' offensive quarterback. It seemed to turn on a switch, and the goals kept coming.
Maryland scored three more times, including two goals from freshman Megan Whittle, in the next seven minutes to power a 9-8 victory over North Carolina for the Terps' 13th national championship and 12th in the NCAA.
Two McDonogh graduates — Whittle and Cummings, the tournament's Most Outstanding Player for the second straight year and the 2014 Tewaaraton Award winner — each scored three goals as Maryland rallied from its biggest halftime deficit of the season. The Terps had trailed by three only once this season, late in their 11-10 loss to Ohio State. Their nine goals Sunday marked their lowest output of the season.
"We really pulled together," Cummings said, "and we were like, 'All right, we have 30 minutes left, and that will make or break our season.' And we showed so much heart and so much hustle, and I think we exemplified what Maryland lacrosse really is in that second half."
Three things in particular drove the second-half comeback: strong defense against the clear; winning seven of nine draws; and a call against the Tar Heels for an illegal substitution during the last draw, which gave Maryland the ball with a 9-8 lead and 3:02 left.
Much of the Terps' dominance this season stemmed from their success at the draw, where they won control nearly two-thirds of the time. They won 11 of 19 on Sunday, but seven came in the second half, which kept North Carolina from the huge possession advantage it had in the first half. Cummings won five in the second half.
Maryland (21-1) also forced the Tar Heels to turn over five of their eight clear attempts in the second half.
"We played long sets of defense," North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said of the second half, "and then you've got to clear the ball under their pressure, and their kids are all [midfielders] by trade. … And so they've got great speed and great intensity, and there were times where we got checked and other times where we threw the ball away. For Maryland, that's what they do well. It's not a shock to us."
In the rematch of the 2013 national championship won by the Tar Heels, North Carolina took a 6-3 lead with four straight goals to end the first half. Sydney Holman's goal with 3.4 seconds left gave them momentum going into the half.
North Carolina was dominating the draw and putting pressure on Terps attackers Griffin and Kristen Lamon behind the cage, taking them out of the offense. Without them, the Terps never found much rhythm in the first half.
They adjusted in the second half, started winning the draws and worked to find to find more holes in the Tar Heels' defense.
After Griffin's goal brought the Terps within 6-5, Whittle fed Cummings, then scored two unassisted goals to give Maryland an 8-6 lead with 15:51 to go.
Cummings won the next draw — her fourth of the half — but the Terps turned it over with 6:47 left. No problem: Maryland picked up its defense, and goalie Alex Fitzpatrick made her fourth save to give the Terps back the ball.
North Carolina (17-4) cut it to one on Marie McCool's goal, but Cummings scored her third goal of the game with 11:57 left for a 9-7 lead. Maggie Bill converted a Terps turnover to cut the lead to 9-8 with 3:02 left.
As the official set up the next draw, a Tar Heels player ran off the field, and the team was called for having too many players on the field. Maryland was awarded possession, and the Terps held on for the final minutes.
In addition to Cummings, the All-Tournament team included Whittle, McPartland and defender Megan Douty.
Maryland added to the nation's top women's lacrosse legacy with its third championship in six years. It has missed the final only once during that stretch. With their 12th NCAA title, the Terps put more distance between themselves and Northwestern, which has seven.
Even though Maryland left the Atlantic Coast Conference for the Big Ten Conference this season, the Terps kept North Carolina on their schedule and won the regular-season game, 13-11, in February. That, however, didn't quite make up for the Terps' 13-12, triple-overtime loss to the Tar Heels in the 2013 national championship, the longest game in tournament history.
Maryland leads the series 22-12, but the Tar Heels had dealt the Terps three of their past five losses. Before Maryland fell to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals three weeks ago, it went 62-2, with the only losses to North Carolina — in the 2013 final and in the 2014 regular season.
Both teams won their regular-season conference titles this spring, but each had to rebound from conference tournament losses. The Tar Heels fell in the ACC championship to Syracuse, 9-8, in overtime.
In the NCAA tournament, each team defeated the winner of the other's conference. The Terps topped the Orange, 10-7, in Friday's semifinal. North Carolina beat Big Ten champion Penn State, 11-8, in the quarterfinals.
The title put the finishing touch on the careers of eight of the Terps' top 13 players: seniors Griffin, Douty, McPartland, Erin Collins, Casey Pepperman (McDonogh), Shanna Brady, Lamon (St. Mary's) and graduate student Fitzpatrick (Lehigh).
Two North Carolina starters from the Baltimore area also completed their careers: Brittney Coppa (North Carroll) and Sam McGee (Bryn Mawr).