Noonan: Revisiting My First Lacrosse Championship Game

Beau Wood/Tufts Lacrosse

Tufts University’s Beau Wood (No. 18) netted the game-winning goal for the Jumbos against Bowdoin College in the 2012 NESCAC Championship game. (PHOTO COURTESY: Matt Noonan)

By Matt Noonan 

The month of May, in my opinion, will always be associated with the sport of lacrosse.

It is a month that features a slew of college tournaments and championships to NCAA postseason runs that concludes on Memorial Day weekend.

But while the sport of lacrosse, as well as other games, remain sidelined for the moment, memories of games covered, including my first-ever New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) Tournament Final, is on my mind. And it is hard not to think back to that gorgeous day – May 6, 2012, to be exact – when Tufts University outlasted Bowdoin College, 9-8, in double-overtime

At the time, I didn’t know much about lacrosse. I thought it was hockey on grass – maybe basketball, too – but it was a sport I grew to love from watching a talented Tufts team (and program), which had won its first-ever national championship two years earlier against Salisbury University.

I got my first glimpse of these Jumbos in mid-April of 2012 when Tufts rolled past Amherst College, 15-5. It was an impressive win.

Mike Daly, who was the coach of the Jumbos, told me neither he or his coaching staff anticipated his team was going to beat Amherst by ten goals on this particular afternoon. Instead, Daly, who is currently the head coach of the Brown University men’s lacrosse team, told me that his team “just put together a pretty complete effort today.” And that effort would certainly be on display weeks later when I covered Tufts’ dramatic win over a Bowdoin, which would conclude its 2012 campaign in the second round of the NCAA D-III Tournament.

Bowdoin was a good team. They had scored some impressive conference wins in 2012, as well as some important non-league victories against Keene State and Springfield College. They beat Wesleyan University in the NESCAC quarterfinals before knocking off Trinity College in the semifinals shortly after Tufts topped Connecticut College.

Tufts had beaten Bowdoin prior to their championship meeting – the Jumbos topped the Polar Bears, 15-7, in Medford, Massachusetts, which made me think the young men who wore the powder blue, brown and white jerseys that day would duplicate that performance on the same field. But I was wrong.

Instead, I, along with fans and friends of each program, was treated to an amazing back and forth affair that saw Bowdoin erase a two-goal deficit during the final minutes of the fourth quarter to force not one, but two extra sessions.

Tufts had a chance to win the game in the first overtime but neither Nick Rhoads and Beau Wood were able to deposit their attempt past Bowdoin’s, Chris Williamson. Bowdoin would also have a chance to clinch the victory but watched Conor O’Toole‘s shot sail wide of the Tufts cage.

So, with the score still knotted at 8-8, we quickly advanced to a second overtime period. And like many, I wondered which team would score that game-winner? Would it be Bowdoin, since they seemed to have all the momentum, thanks to back-to-back fourth-quarter goals by Keegan Mehlhorn and Will Wise, or Tufts, which had not located the back of the net since the final seconds of the third quarter?

That question would be answered during the sixth and final period when Tufts scored on its third attempt of the session with 1:50 remaining. Beau Wood fired home the game-winner after receiving a pass from Geordie Shafer. And once the ball slipped past Bowdoin’s Chris Williamson, the Jumbos rushed the field to celebrate a hard-fought yet exhilarating win.

“We knew we had to just end (the game) it as soon (as we got the ball),” Wood remarked shortly after his team’s one-goal win.

Indeed, the Jumbos did end it, but not until they forced their second turnover of the second overtime.

Tufts would advance to the NCAA semifinals two weeks later but saw their run toward a national title conclude against SUNY Cortland. The Red Dragons, which beat the Jumbos by a score of 12-10, would end up losing in the finals to Salisbury, who had beaten Tufts in the national title game one year earlier.

Sure, it was disappointing to see a team you had covered fall short of winning the ultimate prize, but I knew eventually this team (and program) would celebrate a championship in the future. And that they did. Tufts would win a pair of titles in the coming years, including their second national championship against Salisbury in 2014. They would also make a third-straight appearance in the championship game in 2016 but lose by one goal to the Sea Gulls of Salisbury.

Tufts will return to the title game again soon. But for now, I consider myself lucky to have covered and chronicled their various campaigns these past few years through NoontimeSports.com. I will always be thankful for the time both Mike Daly and his players provided me after the three contests I covered in 2012 and will continue to look back on this time fondly. I was a young journalist (and blogger), but also someone that wanted to learn more about a sport that I had only played once in my life. And because of Tufts, I am now an avid lacrosse fan, as well as a high school and middle school official here in Massachusetts.

I miss watching and covering games, especially on gorgeous days like today, but I do know better days are ahead for all of us, and they will certainly include exciting and dramatic one-goal victories.

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