PHILADELPHIA — The fastest game on two feet has come to a slowdown again.
Men's lacrosse, billed as one of America's fastest-moving sports, will have its NCAA Division I championship Monday played by two teams, Maryland and Denver, with deliberate offenses.
The 30-second shot clock and recent rule changes were supposed to quicken the game and force an up-tempo pace. Instead, you might want to secure a spot on the couch, grab a pillow, take a nap and wake up midway through the fourth quarter to see which team will win.
That's not to say the game will be boring. But that's the style of the Terps and Pioneers, and it's hard to criticize either when both are in the championship game.
"I've got to start the coffee brewing and it's going to be a long night," Maryland coach John Tillman said of preparing for Denver. "But I have to take a look. And I think they probably are dealing with some fatigue, too. Knowing [Denver coach Bill Tierney], if they get opportunities to run, they're going to run. If not, they'll probably get settled and get their pieces together and just execute their offense.
"And I think at this time of year, you're trying to be opportunistic, but then you really have to be efficient with the things that you're doing and try to maximize each opportunity, get a good shot. And for us, that's how we are. If it takes us longer, we've got to be disciplined enough to wait for the best shot and not the first shot."
Sixth-seeded Maryland, which beat rival Johns Hopkins, 12-11, in the semifinals Saturday, worked its game to perfection. To play such a style, a team needs a strong faceoff player, and the Terps have one of the nation's best in senior Charlie Raffa, who won 14 of 26 Saturday and also scored a goal.
Once Maryland controlled possession, the Terps worked the ball around the field. As soon as officials called for the shot clock, Maryland attacked and caught Blue Jays defenders flat-footed and watching the ball several times.
The results were easy goals. Matt Rambo led the team with four goals, and fellow attackman Jay Carlson (St. Paul's) added three, while midfielder Henry West had two.
"We expected their whole offense to be more assertive in this game," said Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala, whose team had beaten Maryland, 15-12, earlier this season. "We also expected them to do what they did, which was put a stranglehold on the ball."
Hopkins managed to stay close throughout the game because midfielders John Crawley (four goals) and Joel Tinney (two goals) were too talented and physical for Maryland's short-stick defensive midfielders, but the Blue Jays couldn't overcome the Terps' stall ball at Lincoln Financial Field.
With Maryland controlling the pace, the Terps kept the ball away from Hopkins attackmen Wells (Boys' Latin) and Shack Stanwick (Boys' Latin) and Ryan Brown (Calvert Hall), as well as Crawley and Tinney.
No. 4 seed Denver used the same strategy in the Pioneers' 11-10 overtime win over top-seeded Notre Dame in the earlier semifinal. Denver couldn't run with the Fighting Irish and had trouble clearing the ball most of the afternoon, but the Pioneers are tough to stop once they get into their offensive sets.
They have some deadly shooters in attackmen Wesley Berg and Zach Miller and midfielder Tyler Pace. Few teams can pass as efficiently as Denver.
"It's hard to be in a good rhythm offensively when you don't see the ball for long periods of time," Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said. "It's just difficult to do, and so we didn't do a great job of it."
And neither did Hopkins, but that's what will make Monday's championship game so interesting. The Terps and Pioneers like a slow pace, but which team will have the most poise? Faceoffs will be key.
Raffa will be going against the best in the college game in Denver's Trevor Baptiste, who won 15 of 24 draws against Notre Dame. Baptiste is more physical, and Raffa is more injury-prone.
Maryland, though, has more hustle and is certainly scrappier. The Terps held a 35-21 advantage over Hopkins in ground balls, including a 22-12 margin in the second half. More ground balls mean more possessions. More possessions mean more time run off the clock.
It seems ironic now, because for years, the lords of lacrosse wanted more offense and a faster game.
They've tinkered with the rules governing clears and added a restraining line. Next was the shot clock.
Yet the game remains basically the same for teams like Maryland and Denver, which value possessions and faceoff wins.
That formula won't change Monday. The slowest team might win.