It took awhile, but the Loyola men's lacrosse team finally hit the gas.
The top-seeded Greyhounds withstood a dreadful second quarter that allowed visiting Canisius to trim a four-goal deficit to one at halftime before putting forth a convincing second half to sprint to a 17-5 rout in an NCAA tournament first-round game before an announced 2,018 Saturday evening at Ridley Athletic Complex.
Loyola, the Eastern College Athletic Conference titlist, improved to 15-1 and collected its first NCAA tournament win since 2001, when the Greyhounds beat Georgetown, 11-9, in the first round.
Loyola will meet Denver in Saturday's quarterfinal round at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. The Pioneers (9-6) defeated No. 8 seed North Carolina, 16-14, Saturday night.
Junior attackman Mike Sawyer -- a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, presented annually to the top college player -- scored all five of his goals in the second half. Senior attackman Eric Lusby (Severna Park) added three goals and two assists as he and Sawyer became the first pair of Loyola teammates since 2000 to record 40 goals each in a season.
Sawyer, who also tied Tim Goettelmann's school record for most goals in a year with his 50th tally with 11 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, said Loyola's offense was tripping over itself in the pivotal second quarter. It was during that period that the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion Golden Griffins turned a 4-0 disadvantage into a 4-3 deficit at halftime.
"I think we just made a lot of mistakes," Sawyer said. "I'm not sure exactly that they actually changed up. We were just not cutting to the ball and not really getting open. So I think that reflects on us. It's something we have to handle going forward."
Loyola scored 13 unanswered goals in the second half to pull away from Canisius (6-8).
When the Greyhounds scored all four goals in the first quarter -- including two by junior long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff, who also scooped up six ground balls, won three of six faceoffs and caused two turnovers -- it appeared that they were on their way to a runaway victory.
But the Golden Griffins responded with a 3-0 run of their own in the second quarter. Back-to-back goals by senior attackman Jimmy Haney helped Canisius trim the deficit to one at halftime.
Loyola finally ended a scoring drought of 24 minutes, 26 seconds when Sawyer snatched a rebound out of mid-air and beat senior goalkeeper Sean Callahan (a game-high 11 saves) 3:15 into the third quarter. Callahan was playing with a dislocated right kneecap suffered six weeks ago.
That ignited the Greyhounds' game-clinching run, which ended with 5:37 left in the fourth quarter when Haney completed his hat trick.
"The pace of the game in that second quarter slowed down," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "They held the ball a little bit on us. So we changed the package up from the invert so that we could be a little more aggressive. I think you saw Scott step out on his player up top and [make] some plays. But we really just challenged our players to come out and play with a ton of energy, and they responded with that."
The Golden Griffins, who were making their first tournament appearance since 2008, were impressed by the Greyhounds' speed and execution on picks.
"They put on a clinic in terms of the pick and roll with their attack group," coach Randy Mearns said. "They kind of started pressing our poles and kind of changed the fundamentals of our defense."