March 13, 2016
The nation's top two teams battled it out in another overtime classic on Sunday night in South Bend.
The nation's top two teams battled it out in another overtime classic on Sunday night in South Bend.

Denver Outlasts Notre Dame After Huge Irish Rally

by Anthony Nasella | | Twitter

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It might have taken until five minutes left in regulation, but Sunday's men's lacrosse showdown between No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Denver finally lived up to the hype.

Down three goals with less than six minutes to play in regulation, the Fighting Irish scored a flurry of four goals in a staggering 43 seconds to take their first lead of the game since scoring the first goal of the night 34 seconds into the contest.

However, Denver would get the final say in fray. The Pioneers' Zach Miller scored the game winner with 2:02 left in sudden death overtime for a thrilling 9-8 win over the Fighting Irish in the battle of the nation's top two programs.

"The fourth quarter brought some flashbacks from Memorial Day weekend," Denver coach Bill Tierney said, referencing last year's NCAA semifinal that ended with Denver winning in OT "You can't play to protect the lead, especially when you are playing a team like Notre Dame, and I thought we did that a little bit. To their credit, they made some hustle plays in that stretch and went on a run. You just have to keep composure and I thought we did that to close out the game."

Mikey Wynne scored three goals and faceoff man P.J Finley scored two for Notre Dame (4-1), which almost overcame a plethora of mental breakdowns, turnovers and scoring droughts before a loud crowd of 3,147 at Arlotta Stadium.

"I wished we would have played better for two third of this game," Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said. "We played such bad offense, handled the ball so poorly, and missed ground balls. There were just too many mistakes to overcome against a team this good.

"It was just us catching and throwing the ball that was our issue. We might have been a little too excited early on. It's as poorly and I've seen us play in a game or practice. We'll learn from this and better, and hopefully we'll learn from the wins, too."

Down 7-2 heading into the fourth period, Wynne scored two unanswered goals to cut the Notre Dame's deficit to three with 6:33 to play in regulation.

What followed was the craziest 43 seconds in the Fighting Irish's season.

Notre Dame fired off four more goals – by Brendan Collins, John Sexton, Wynne, and finally Finley, assisted by Matt Kavanagh, to take an 8-7 lead with 4:34 left to play. A goal by Denver's Tyler pace with 2:25, ultimately forced overtime and led to the eventual game winner by Miller.

"We live for that moment in the clutch," Finley said. "The guys on this team have been in every possible and conceivable situation: ACC championships, final fours, and national championships. This is our third No. 1 vs. No. 2 game on this field in past two years. We don't get scared by the moment.

"I don't think anybody on this team was surprised that others stepped up when we needed it tonight. I wished things would have clicked for us earlier, but that's how the game went."

Denver built its biggest lead at 6-1 with 5:20 left in the first half, while keeping the Fighting Irish scoreless for 28 minutes.

"I thought our defense played really well other than that stretch [in the fourth quarter]," Tierney said. "This was our best defensive performance by far this season. We held them to two goals through three quarters. With that said, we've got to continue to work on our clearing game."

Meanwhile, Notre Dame didn't help its cause with eight first-half turnovers and just two goals on 14 shots.

"Coach told us at halftime to just go out and play loose in the second half and just calm down," Wynne said. "We're always ready to play, despite the fact that we had such an awful first three quarters. This team has heart and we fought to the end. We played one good quarter and forced overtime.

"Makes you think what we can do when we string a whole game together."

Notre Dame and Denver have gone into sudden death in five of the last six games they've played against each other.

"Crazy, isn't it?" Corrigan said. "It's two teams who know each other and are well prepared for each other. One thing we know about our guys is that there's no quit in them. We've been that way for years, and we've made a lot of comebacks. I never question if my guys are going to play until the last whistle."

Notre Dame scored four goals in 43 seconds to take a 8-7 lead late in the fourth quarter before Denver forced overtime on a Tyler Pace goal then won it on a Zach Miller strike.

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