May 25, 2012

Life of Riley: Dowling Has Confidence in FOGO

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

He has made some exciting plays in overtime for Dowling, but Lou Riley is known for his work on faceoffs. On Sunday, he'll square off with Jake Ternosky for the second time this season in a match-up that could very well determine who will win the NCAA Division II national championship.

Sometimes coaches go with their gut instincts over conventional wisdom. That's what Dowling's Tim Boyle did last year as his faceoff specialist, Lou Riley, sprinted toward the C.W. Post goal just seconds into overtime after cleanly winning the draw.

Every fiber of Boyle's being told him to call a timeout once Riley entered the offensive zone, but the coach looked on quietly as the play unfolded. Riley dashed toward the net waiting for a slide that never came, eventually depositing the game-winner in the back of the net with just 12 seconds elapsed.

"I tell Lou this all the time: when he was running down the field against C.W. Post, I was going to call timeout, but things happen," said Boyle.

Fast-forward to last weekend in the NCAA Division II semifinals, with Dowling locked up with defending national champion Mercyhurst. Riley once again broke clear of the pack off the first faceoff of overtime.

"As I was coming down, I was thinking, 'This is just like Post from last year,'" said Riley. "That's what my teammates said to me, too. We thought it was going to be like Post all over again."

It wasn't.

"Against Mercyhurst, I had that same feeling and thought maybe I should call timeout," said Boyle. "Actually, when we he passed it off to the point man and we took a shot that got blocked and Mercyhurst got possession and brought it back down and called timeout, one part of me thought that I had just cost us the game."

What makes Boyle put his coaching instincts on hold like this? A big part of it is Riley, who seemingly always delivers for the Golden Lions. When the junior gets in his trademark crouch for a faceoff, he's a huge favorite to come away with the win – Riley is 182-for-277 (65.7 percent) this season; 200-for-290 (69.0 percent) in 2011.

Riley is also the reason that Boyle and the rest of the Dowling team believe that they have a good chance of beating Limestone in the national championship game on Sunday even though the Saints stomped the Golden Lions, 15-7, on their own field in the regular season finale on May 6.

Going against Limestone's Jake Ternosky, considered the top FOGO in the country, Riley essentially split faceoffs, with Ternosky going 12-of-22 and Riley posting a 10-of-22 mark when the pair went head-to-head.

"It's going to be a battle in there," Boyle said. "They both have some amazingly fast hands. Jake has great balance and is very powerful and strong. They both have similar traits. I don't know if one guy is going to get the better of the other, but we're hoping that Lou will have a day on the biggest stage."

"One of my strengths is my hand speed to the ball is faster than my competitors, so my reaction time is quicker than everyone else," said Riley. "The Limestone kid has the quickest hands I've seen out of all of D-II so far. Me and him are going to be a good matchup. I'm excited to get at it."

Riley, as well as Boyle, is hoping for better play from the wing players on Dowling in the national championship game. Against Limestone, and even in the victory over Mercyhurst last week, Boyle feels like the faceoff wings have played outside of the team's structure.

"Everyone has a role on the team and everyone has to do that role to the best of their ability," Boyle said. "Every now and then, someone is going to make a big play, but we don't need to try to make the big play every play. We need to go back to the fundamental aspect of wing play and have them do what we tell them to do."

Riley has worked with his wings closely all week in preparation for the big one on Sunday.

"I really got on our wing guys this week because in the first game they hurt us in the faceoff battle," he said. "There are a few that I won and pulled out, but their wing guys beat our wing guys in. Those are possessions you have to have in a national championship game. That's something we're going to harp on. They have to do their work and keep the other guys off me so I can get the ground ball."

And if Riley emerges from the pack in overtime against Limestone for the third time in two years and darts toward the goal, what will Boyle do then?

With the confidence the coach – and the program – has in Riley, don't be surprised if the timeout never comes.

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