Few teams, it seems, have put together the number of classic college lacrosse games in recent years as Johns Hopkins and Virginia.
The schools do own four of the last six titles (Syracuse, which has the other two, has played some fine games against both schools as well), so that’s part of it.
Yet while Virginia-Syracuse is rock-em-sock-em and Hopkins-Syracuse is a contrast in styles, Virginia-Hopkins has a way of bringing out the weird.
Like four overtimes.
Or Hopkins scoring 15 goals in a loss for the first time in a decade and a half.
Or funky bounces on a rutty field on Memorial Day.
Or a team mired in a miserable season stunning No. 1.
Or, you know, a thunderstorm delay to set up one of the finest finishes the sport has ever seen.
Virginia is 9-3 this decade against Hopkins, so obviously this list tilts toward the Cavaliers.
But it doesn’t diminish the reality these teams have played some fine games in the Aughts – and gives hope that maybe they have one more memorable matchup in them Sunday at Annapolis.
1. 2005 semifinals: Hopkins 9-8 (OT)
Unbeaten Hopkins went down a goal with 12.9 seconds left when Matt Ward scored. The Blue Jays won the ensuing faceoff, and Jake Byrne took what seemed like an eternity to fire a laser past Kip Turner with 1.4 seconds remaining to force overtime. There, Benson Erwin put away the Cavaliers, and Hopkins went on to win its first title in 18 years a couple days later.
Oh, and all of that came after an Oz-like moment in the fourth quarter. The swirling hot dog wrappers at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field was the storm warning, and a lightning delay pressed pause on the game. It was a solid game beforehand, a great one afterward – and maybe the best semifinal in tournament history.
2. 2009 regular season: Virginia 16-15
Although it was a goalie-optional night, this one had the reminder Virginia can score at will on its best nights, the realization Hopkins can do the same and a wild closing stretch to whet the appetite for a rematch.
It’s not often four players can roll up five points. It happened here, with Garrett Billings (4-4) and Danny Glading (2-3) doing so for Virginia and Chris Boland (6-2) and Brian Christopher (4-1) doing the same for Hopkins. It’s not often Virginia squanders a 12-6 lead. It happened, forcing the Cavaliers to score the final two goals to remain unbeaten and complete the Dome/Homewood road sweep.
3. 2001 regular season: Virginia 9-8 (4OT)
This was Tillman Johnson’s way of saying “Hello.” It couldn’t have been much splashier.
Johnson made 19 saves as the Cavaliers erased a three-goal hole at the half to rally past the Blue Jays at Homewood. There was a little era-connecting on this night, since the hero of the 1999 title team (Conor Gill) scored the game-winner and the defensive anchor of Virginia’s 2003 championship squad authored his first truly great game.
4. 2003 title game: Virginia 9-7
Well, any game with a championship on the line needs to make this list somehow. Hopkins was the top seed and possessed plenty of offensive flair, but a rutty field at M&T Bank Stadium (this was right before the introduction of field turf in Baltimore) did a bit to neutralize the Blue Jays.
Meanwhile, Virginia had the hot goalie in Johnson (13 saves) and a superb midfield of Chris Rotelli, A.J. Shannon and Billy Glading combined for six goals and five assists.
5. 2004 regular season: Virginia 9-8 (OT)
A devilishly entertaining game, especially when Hopkins’ dominance (it had just crushed Syracuse 17-5) was juxtaposed with Virginia’s feeble start (1-4 followed by a 9-8 overtime win at Towson).
The Cavaliers trailed 8-6 in the fourth quarter, the direction of the season pretty much hanging on whether they could rally. And so they did, getting scores from Foster Gilbert (his first of the season) and Matt Poskay in the final 10 minutes. Gilbert then scored again in overtime, keeping Virginia perfect (for a time, anyway) in night games at Klockner Stadium.
It turned out to be the ultimate blip. Hopkins went back to winning (often big) until it was destroyed by Syracuse in the final four. Virginia traveled up to College Park the next weekend and got hammered 11-2 and would never climb back to .500.