PHILADELPHIA — Thomas Cirillo, James Burton and company did not want to become the first senior class since 1993 to depart the Salisbury men's lacrosse program without having captured a national championship.
Those two senior midfielders played a big part in making sure it didn't happen.
Cirillo and Burton scored crucial goals in the fourth quarter to stem a furious comeback attempt by Tufts and lift Salisbury to a thrilling 14-13 victory in the Division III final before 23,015 fans at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.
Burton scored three goals and dished off two assists while Cirillo totaled two goals and two assists for Salisbury (23-1), which earned its 11th NCAA crown and first since 2012. Junior attackmen Nick Garbarino and Nathan Blondino combined for nine points for the Sea Gulls, who avenged a loss to the Jumbos in the 2014 championship game.
"We heard it from everyone. We knew. All the alumni knew. We didn't want to be that class," Cirillo said when asked about the prospect of graduating without winning a title. "It feels so good to get that monkey off our back. It's a pretty sweet way to go out."
Cirillo noted that the current juniors, sophomores and freshmen won't have to worry about that problem.
"We took the scare. It took us four years to get one. Now we've got the demon off everyone else's back for the next three years," he said.
Jim Berkman, the top winner in college lacrosse history with a 488-51 record, was not afraid to remind the seniors about the drought. Berkman, in his 28th season at Salisbury, said the motivation of the seniors trumped the revenge factor against Tufts.
"They've been reminded of it so many times by everyone around them so there was no sense in beating around the bush," Berkman said. "A big reason why we're here is because that senior class was so determined and improved so much. It was the incentive and extra drive by that senior class that motivated everyone and put us in position to win."
Berkman was asked where he'll put the 11th ring now that all his digits are filled. He said perhaps one finger will have two.
Garbarino, a powerfully-built 230-pounder, scored all three of his goals from the crease and also dished off two assists. Blondino added two goals and two assists to increase his season total to 101 points. The St. Mary's-Ryken product is the 11th player in Salisbury history to reach the century mark for single-season points.
Senior attackman John Uppgren scored four goals and assisted another to lead Tufts (20-3), which was attempting to become just the third Division III program to secure three straight titles. Uppgren concluded his career with 418 career points on 237 goals and 181 assists – third all-time at the Division III level.
Salisbury goalie Colin Reymann was named the Most Outstanding Player after posting 15 saves, including the game-clinching stop with five seconds remaining. Reymann, a junior out of Mount St. Joseph High, hugged the pipe and stuffed a point-blank shot by Uppgren to protect the one-goal lead. Reymann then tossed the ball high in the air as the final seconds ticked away.
"I think it was more reactionary than anything. It happened so fast," said Reymann, who missed the first nine games of the season with a broken hand. "I just kept my hands high and the next thing I knew it was in my stick. I looked up at the clock, saw there five seconds left, so I chucked the ball up the field."
Junior attackman Carson Kalama contributed two goals and an assist for Salisbury, which used an 8-0 run to build a seemingly commanding 12-4 advantage with 9:12 remaining in the third quarter. Tufts, which had jumped out to a 3-1 lead, went more than 20 minutes without scoring a goal.
"We come to play 60 minutes so we don't worry about 20 minutes here or there," Tufts head coach Mike Daly said. "I was not worried at all. This team has as much heart and guts as any team we've ever had. I never doubted them."
Senior midfielder Jake Gillespie had two goals and an assist for Tufts, which went on a 7-0 run to get back into the game. Conor Helfrich spearheaded the comeback by winning 15 of 16 faceoffs in the second half as the Jumbos played keep away.
"We were fortunate to find a way to win when we couldn't get the ball after virtually the 33-minute mark of the game," Berkman said. "We found a way to weather the storm and be one goal better."
An unassisted goal by Uppgren cut the deficit to 12-11 at the 13:09 mark of the fourth period, but Tufts could never get the equalizer. Cirillo scored an extra man goal off a wicked crank shot that was assisted by Burton to put Salisbury ahead by two again.
Uppgren scored again off a rebound to get the Jumbos back within one, but Burton answered with a hard overhand shot that made it 14-12 with 6:06 to go.
Zach Richman gave Tufts another shot to tie the score by scoring a spectacular goal with 3:04 left. Richman came from nowhere to scoop a rebound and flipped the ball into the cage in the same motion to make it 14-13.
Salisbury sophomore midfielder Hunter Schaeffer made a tremendous check to strip Richman off the ball as he was rushing toward the goal for a possible one-on-one shot. That gave the Sea Gulls a chance to salt away valuable time but they turned the ball over with 48.5 seconds remaining after allowing the 30-second clock to expire.
Tufts called timeout with 33.8 seconds left to set up one final play. The Jumbos got what they wanted with Uppgren cutting to the crease and taking a pass from behind, but Reymann came up with the clutch save to secure the win.
"It was a pretty good heavyweight fight and they threw one more punch than we did," said Daly, who has led Tufts to three titles in 18 years at the helm.