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Preston: Terps might not be great team, but it appears this is their year to win it all

If Maryland doesn't win the national title in Division I men's lacrosse this year, it might never get one.

If not now, when?

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It's been 41 years since Maryland won the title, but the No. 1-seeded Terps (17-2) will get another shot Monday when they play North Carolina (11-6) in the championship game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

Maryland junior Colin Heacock scored a goal from just outside the crease on a feed from classmate and fellow attackman Matt Rambo with 2:41 remaining in the four-minute sudden-death overtime to lift Maryland to a 15-14 semifinal win over a resilient Brown team.

But in the final nine minutes of the game, it looked like Maryland would fold again on the sport's biggest stage. It wouldn't be anything new for the Terps, who were making their fifth Final Four appearance in six years, including three in the title game.

They blew a 14-10 lead with 9:33 remaining in regulation to a team that committed 24 turnovers. Maryland coach John Tillman should have called a timeout when one of his players, Tim Rotanz, had possession and was surrounded by three Brown players with about five minutes left, but instead the Terps lost the ball and Brown pulled within 14-13 seven seconds later.

There was also the poorly designed play after a timeout with 2:03 remaining and some sloppy play on defense against the Bears, who had struggled previously in half-field offensive sets.

But who cares?

The Terps won and are in position Monday to win their first national championship since 1975. That's all that matters and, after Saturday, it seems like this is their year.

They don't have any superstars on the roster, just a collection of some really good players such as Rambo, Heacock, midfielders Isaiah Davis-Allen, Bryan Cole and Connor Kelly. While Rambo struggled in shooting Saturday, he still finished with a goal and five assists including the one on the game-winner. Heacock isn't flashy, but just does everything well, from carrying the ball, to passing, to making quick stick shots off the crease.

Matt Dunn gets a lot of recognition as a close defenseman for the Terps but Tim Muller and Mac Pons were part of a defense that held Brown scoreless for nearly 22 minutes in the second half.

It's not a great Maryland team, but there are no great teams this year in college lacrosse. Virginia didn't make it into the postseason, and Johns Hopkins and Denver lost opening-round games. Syracuse and Notre Dame lost in the quarterfinals.

North Carolina has great tradition, but the Tar Heels are making their first appearance in the Final Four since 1993, which was also the last time they played for the championship.

The Tar Heels will present Maryland with a tough challenge. Nearly a week ago, when North Carolina beat Notre Dame on the campus of Ohio State, coach Joe Breschi broke down in tears during a postgame interview because his players had dedicated the game to his son, Michael, who died after being struck by an SUV while Breschi was the coach of the Buckeyes in 2004.

The scene in North Carolina's locker room afterward was euphoric and touching, and it was easy to tell that Breschi had reached the soul of his players. When that happens, a team believes it is invincible and will play extremely hard for the coach.

But North Carolina had to play hard to hold off a second-half comeback on a hot and humid afternoon in an 18-13 win over Loyola in the other semifinal Saturday. That plays into Maryland's strength because there is only one day of rest before Monday's game.

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Maryland has great depth because the Terps rotate four attackmen, six offensive middies, three long-pole middies and four short-stick defensive middies. They also have won 16 in a row and play outstanding defense and are balanced on offense.

The biggest positive coming out of Saturday's win was that the Terps could have easily given up. When Brown junior defenseman Brendan Caputo scored with 1:49 left in regulation to tie the game at 14, the Terps could have dropped their heads and said, "Oh, no, here we go again," especially the way Brown goalie Jack Kelly was playing.

Instead, they persevered and overcame. Deep down inside, they know it is their year to win.

If not, when?

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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