Saturday may have been Senior Day for the Maryland men’s lacrosse program, but it was a trio of juniors who powered the team and kept its winning streak alive.
Dylan Maltz set a new career high with four goals, while Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock each had hat tricks, as Maryland rebounded from a slow start to defeat Rutgers 11-8 in a Big Ten showdown at Maryland Stadium.
The No. 5-ranked Terps have now won eight games in a row since starting the season 1-2. Rutgers, ranked 18th in the country and second in the conference, dropped to 9-3 with the loss.
For a while, it looked like the visitors might spoil Senior Day as well as the home team’s win streak. The Scarlet Knights led 4-3 at halftime and seemed to be frustrating Maryland with their aggressiveness on the Terps’ clears, causing lots of pressure and forcing several uncharacteristic turnovers.
Maryland head coach John Tillman attributed some of his team’s shaky play early on to nerves often associated with a game of this magnitude.
“Senior Day is tough,” he said. “There’s a lot of emotions going through the kids’ heads, and I thought we were a little anxious, and we just couldn’t seem to settle down.”
Tillman also felt the team was not taking advantage of its first-half opportunities in the offensive end.
“I thought early we just settled,” he said. “We didn’t move a lot off-ball, we kind of got stubborn, and we just didn’t let the ball do a lot of the work for us.”
Two more Rutgers goals in the opening three minutes of the third quarter pushed the lead to 6-3, and the Scarlet Knights appeared to be on the verge of pulling away. But soon after the sixth goal, the Terps offense finally came alive.
Goals by Heacock and Rambo exactly two minutes apart narrowed the deficit to one, and two Maltz tallies—his second and third of the day—gave Maryland its first lead since the middle of the second quarter. Maltz said the tying goal, a mid-range shot resulting from a lightning-fast Terps clear, got the bench “fired up” and gained momentum for the team that they would carry into the final quarter.
Maryland started the fourth with a much more patient and deliberate attack, working the ball around offensively and preserving its one-goal lead. The strategy paid off, as three more goals from the trio of attackmen made the score 10-6 and punctuated a 7-0 Terps run. Rutgers ended its scoreless streak of over 20 minutes with two late goals, but another Heacock goal for Maryland capped the scoring for the day.
“Credit to the kids. They all stayed positive,” Tillman said of his team’s ability to recover from the early deficit. “We kept working and working, and that little flurry in the third quarter really got us some momentum and kind of got the bounce back in our step.”
Although Maltz led the way with four goals in the game, he credited experienced starters Rambo and Heacock in spearheading the Terps’ comeback.
“I think that Matty and Colin are two of the best attackmen in the country,” he said, “and I think emotionally they helped us get to where we needed to get.”
Defenseman Matt Dunn also praised Maryland’s patience on the attack in maintaining the team’s strong play defensively.
“I think part of the defense is helped out by our offense having good possessions, planning good shots and being smart with the ball,” he said. “I wish I could say that we just all shut down our matchups and played perfect six-on-six defense, but I think you’ve got to look at the bigger picture.”
Overall, Tillman thought his team played well in honoring its seniors against a very tough Rutgers squad.
“We talked a lot this week about sending them off on Senior Day the right way,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty at times, but I thought our guys did a great job.”