- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 22, 2011

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Maryland’s lacrosse players have grown accustomed this spring to hearing five words from John Tillman: “Guys, I’ve got a play.”

The first-year coach’s constant tinkering helped the Terrapins earn a trip to the final four for the first time in five years.

Grant Catalino’s overtime goal helped the Terps oust top-seeded Syracuse 6-5 in the NCAA quarterfinals before 14,122 at Gillette Stadium.

“Since I’ve been here, I feel like we’ve always been on the other end of those overtime games where the other team is running on the field,” Maryland midfielder Dan Burns said. “To have those feelings switched around, especially against a team like Syracuse on a stage like today going to the final four, there’s nothing like it.”

Maryland (12-4) will meet fifth-seeded Duke (14-5), a 7-5 winner over Notre Dame, in the semifinals Saturday in Baltimore.

The difference for the Terps was a play Maryland didn’t practice until this week.

Tillman knew the Orange (15-2) frequently dare teams to throw into an apparently open man on the inside, only to collapse and promptly force a turnover or a weak shot. In turn, he hoped to lure a defenseman off Catalino with a midfielder’s charge down the alley to goalie John Galloway’s right.

“I knew they’d hedge a lot, and so you had to do things that took advantage of a hedge,” Tillman said. “We knew if they pulled over that much, we could double seal. If the guy sealed their own guys, there was no way that guy was getting back.”

Maryland tried it in the first half out of a timeout, with no luck in springing Catalino free. It still worked; Scott LaRue found an unfettered lane and scored, pulling the Terps even at 2.

LaRue again was on the field in overtime to run the play, only this time he drew some extra attention before passing to senior Ryan Young. Sure enough, Catalino was free to take Young’s feed and zip in a dart from about 10 yards out.

“When I came around the double seal, I was not thinking anything except ‘Do what I’ve been told, do what I practiced,’” Catalino said. “Early in the game, I had that same shot, but I went low-to-low and it went off his sweatpants. In overtime, sometimes you don’t put as much thought because the emotions are running through your head. I just did my signature low-to-high.”

The genesis of the play was partially rooted in a miserable moment of Maryland’s past. Tillman, then the offensive coordinator at Navy, used a variation of the call to help produce Ian Dingman’s game-winner with 8 seconds left against the Terps in 2006.

Catalino said the play was installed Tuesday or Wednesday and was run about 30 times in practice. It didn’t even have a name until Friday, when Maryland - which bused from College Park to New England - stopped Friday to practice at Fairfield and dubbed the call “Stag.”

Just getting to the closing flourish, though, was a grind for the first unseeded Maryland team to reach the final four since 1997.

This year’s Orange, whose 25-game quarterfinal winning streak was snapped, was atypical by Syracuse standards. Rather than preferring a frantic tempo, they thrived all season with stars like Galloway, long pole Joel White and close defenseman John Lade.

The Terps quickly ascertained they wouldn’t run by Syracuse. But instead of generating transition, they worked the clock and eventually held possession for more than 40 minutes.

“Well, we played Big Ten football, and ran the ball 52 times and threw it 10,” Tillman said. “We wanted to get up and down. We wanted to run. That was the whole game plan. There was no ‘We had to hold it.’ We wanted to run. We just couldn’t get going.”

Maryland took a 5-3 lead after LaRue slipped in a pass from Young just before the third quarter horn sounded. Jeremy Thompson’s extra-man goal halved the deficit, and after Galloway handled an Owen Blye shot, Jovan Miller scored unassisted with 1:05 left in regulation.

Goalie Niko Amato stuffed Miller with 16 seconds left, sending matters to overtime. It wasn’t until the Terps’ second possession before Tillman’s play was called again -and Maryland’s final four drought ended in the process.

“We came in with a new coaching staff [this year] and it could have gone any way,” fifth-year senior Brian Farrell said. “We took to the challenge. It was just awesome. You can’t beat this.”

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