A stunning upset in the NCAA tournament and then a repeat 10 years later. Three games in seven years postponed by inclement weather. A field so deluged by rain that the opposing coach questioned how the flagship school in the state’s university system could not afford a better alternative.
Those are just a few of the memorable moments in the men’s lacrosse series between Maryland and Towson, which will add another chapter when the Terps (11-4) visit the No. 6 seed Tigers (11-4) at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson in an NCAA tournament first-round game Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
The matchup will be the first meeting between the programs since the rivalry went dormant in 2012. The absence of an annual contest between the state’s two largest public universities continues to disappoint fans and participants from both sides.
“I was shocked in 2012 when I heard they weren’t going to play each other anymore,” former Towson coach Tony Seaman said. “We found ways that we could make that happen — playing in the middle of the week, a game on Friday night. We just tried everything we could to keep that game going.”
There does not appear to be any movement toward reviving the series. Current Tigers coach Shawn Nadelen insists that Terps coach John Tillman made the decision to not renew the annual game and should therefore make the first overture to resume the rivalry.
“They were the ones to drop it,” Nadelen said. “So obviously, I’m not going to go banging on their door trying to renew it every year. If they want to play us, they can contact us.”
Tillman was initially noncommittal about making the first offer before appearing to soften his stance.
“I don’t think I’m going to get into who’s got to ask who,” he said. “At the end of the day, I don’t think that’s quite as important as hey, if it’s something that they want to do, I’m sure we could get together and talk about it. I’m certainly happy if I’m the one that reaches out. That’s fine, too.”
The off-field tension was once confined to the on-field skirmishes between the programs, which played against each other in 1971, took a 10-year hiatus, and then faced each other annually from 1981 until 2012.
Former Maryland goalkeeper Tim McGinnis, who now provides analysis of Terps games via the university’s radio network, said the schools featured players from the state who carried grudges from being overlooked by “blue blood” programs.
“Towson and Maryland — until John Tillman came around — never got the best recruits, but they were always relevant because they worked harder than the opponent,” said McGinnis, who grew up in Westminster and graduated from Loyola Blakefield. “And when we finally played each other, it was kind of like looking into a mirror. We might not have been the best talent in the world, but those were good lacrosse games — hard-fought, physical lacrosse from guys that wanted to win.”
When he was hired after the 1998 season to replace Carl Runk as the Tigers coach, Seaman said he walked down the hall to his new office and passed a sign on the door of the gymnastics coach’s office that read, “Beat Maryland. That’s the meet that counts.”
“So I figured out real quick about that rivalry,” Seaman said with chuckle.
Cottle called a game against Towson “a three-aspirin day,” adding, “It was a backyard brawl, it was a neighborhood brawl. It was two teams giving everything that they had. It was just an intense game.”
On the men’s side, No. 8 Syracuse and No. 6 Loyola Maryland will kick off the weekend’s first-round action of the NCAA tournament, while No. 9 James Madison and No. 14 Stony Brook will meet in the first round of the playoffs on the women’s side.
Sometimes Mother Nature intervened, forcing games in 1993, 1995 and 1999 to be moved from their customary spots in March to May. A persistent rain turned the field inside what was Byrd Stadium in College Park in 2010 into a mud slop, and Seaman — still smarting from a 12-8 loss — sarcastically wondered how Maryland was using its funds to care for its athletic facilities.
The Terps have dominated the Tigers, winning 28 of 33 meetings. But two of Towson’s victories came on the sport’s biggest stage — the NCAA tournament. The Tigers defeated No. 7 Maryland in 1991 to advance to the school’s first championship game, ultimately losing to North Carolina. And 10 years later, No. 6 seed Towson upended No. 3 seed Maryland, 12-11, in the 2001 NCAA tournament quarterfinals to advance to its second Final Four.
Hunter Lochte, who scored the tying goal and then ran out the clock to cement the win as a sophomore midfielder in 2001 and now serves as a radio analyst for Towson games, said Tigers players, coaches and fans looked forward to competing against the Terps despite the imbalance in the win-loss record. That’s why the rivalry’s end after the 2011 season still rankles some.
“I think there’s always been that ‘Maryland dropped Towson?’ or ‘Towson wasn’t good enough to be on Maryland’s schedule?’ kind of thing,” said Lochte, who grew up in Baltimore and graduated from Boys’ Latin. “Maybe that’s just the Towson bias in me, and maybe it’s just the underdog role that we’ve always played, but I think a lot of that has to do with that.”
Nadelen, who is now open to playing a midweek game, said he remains surprised that the rivalry is inactive.
“Obviously, they made a decision that they felt they needed to for their program, and that’s why the series ended,” he said. “We had some scrimmages between that time and now just because of proximity and the caliber of opponent that you want to face in scrimmages. Obviously, it could be something that would have a great environment and atmosphere and benefit both teams.”
Tillman said both program’s high RPI and strength of schedule numbers make resuming the series attractive.
“The way it is now, you’re looking for the best opponents, and to me, it makes sense when you’ve got somebody right in your backyard that’s been super successful,” he said. “It should help you not only at the end of the year, but during the year because when you’re playing tough teams, it gets you ready for your conference.”
It might be too late to make changes to the teams’ 2020 schedules, but Seaman remains hopeful that cooler heads will prevail.
“I certainly thought it was a wonderful rivalry as were the Towson-Hopkins and Towson-Loyola rivalries,” he said. “I think anytime you’ve got teams that are playing so well and are so successful and are in the same area, if they don’t play each other, they should work at getting that to happen.”