May 27, 2012

Following Through: Dowling Wins First Title

by Matt Forman | | Twitter | Live Blog Replay

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Dowling's mantra for 2012: Believe. Commit. Follow through. On the sport's grandest stage, in the game's biggest moments, the Golden Lions made it true, upending Limestone 11-10 in the Division II championship game Sunday and sending Long Island into celebration.

"Everybody wants to believe. That's the easiest thing. Anybody can say they believe, but it's hard to prove, which you do by commitment. Following through is being out there doing it," Dowling senior Vito DeMola said. "And we followed through in the ultimate way."

Lou Riley (above) won 14-of-25 faceoffs against Limestone's Jake Ternosky - the first-team All-American FOGO - helping Dowling win its first national championship.
© Kevin P. Tucker

That feeling was palpable Sunday evening as DeMola, named the game's most outstanding player after scoring four goals and two assists, ran around the field wondering what to do after, doing his best Jim Valvano impression after capturing the school's first-ever national title in front of an all-day announced crowd of 17,005.

"This is something I've seen Syracuse do a couple times on TV. I've seen C.W. Post do it. And I always had a plan of what I was going to do if I won a national championship," DeMola said. "As soon as that buzzer went off, I didn't know what to do. I was like, 'Where's our goalie? Where's our faceoff guy? Who do I hug first? Who is kissing me on the cheek?'"

As Dowling walked off the field and up the ramp to its locker room in the bowels of Gillette Stadium, cheers of "We're bringing it home" — there are 31 players on Dowling's roster from Long Island — "We're No. 1, baby," "I have no idea what just happened," and "We just won it all," graced the hallways. Senior Ryan Dougherty followed the proceedings with a grand smile, holding the Walnut and Bronze trophy.

Despite surrendering two goals to Limestone long-stick midfielder Anthony Starnino, allowing a pair of deflected shots to find the back of the net, and an own-goal trickle past goalie Ryan Dougherty, Dowling "weathered the storm," as coach Tim Boyle said. Another way to put it: Dowling believed, committed and followed through.

Though it might have been tense on the sidelines for Boyle, the result marked another outstanding finish to the title game, which has been settled by one goal in five of the last nine seasons.

"Surviving all that is a testament to the boys. They have had a never-quit attitude all year long. Fate might have been with us," Boyle said. "It was all about a grind today. Possess, possess, possess. Position, position, position."

In the process, Dowling reversed the result of its two regular-season losses in consecutive weeks, upsetting defending title-winner and No. 1 Mercyhurst on the road and knocking off Limestone.

"I don't think revenge is a good word, I think avenge is a good word," Boyle said. "You just don't get these opportunities in life, where you get to make up for two mistakes you made."

The day before its game against Mercyhurst, Boyle took Dowling to watch "The Avengers," the new sci-fi feature film. It perfectly describes this Golden Lions group, which after the loss to Mercyhurst on May 6, "thought we were out of the playoffs and were all very low," Boyle said.

"It was kind of funny, because nobody looked at it like that going into the movie," DeMola said. "But then we came out of the movie, and it was like, 'You guys have a chance to be the avengers. Avenge your losses.' We went out and grinded."

In the anticipated matchup of blue-collar Long Islanders against chipper Canadians in South Carolina, Dowling jumped out to a 4-0 lead. The scoring opened on DeMola's tough-angle lefty finish just over Steve Gartelman's shoulder, and the Golden Lions kept pressuring. Dowling held Limestone's dynamic, high-powered attack scoreless for the first 21:31 of the game.

Much like the first meeting between the teams, when Limestone went on an 8-1 second-quarter run before winning 15-7, the Saints rallied back. Over the next two stanzas, they scored six of the game's ensuing seven goals to take a 6-5 lead midway through the third quarter, after Shayne Jackson initiated from X and scored righty. Limestone took another lead, at 7-6, at the end of the third period, but was never able to take a two-goal advantage. DeMola immediately scored a pair of unassisted goals to answer.

"We played the same way the first five or 10 minutes in our first game with them. You have to credit Dowling for coming out and being on top of the world," Limestone coach J.B. Clark said. "We tried to keep a more even-keel throughout. You get behind 4-0, jeez, and then we took the lead at 7-6. We both made plays down the stretch. They made plays early that we just couldn't overcome."

Still, Limestone looked like it would tie the game in the final minute, when the Saints had three solid looks at the cage. But Jackson missed wide left on a step-down shot, then missed wide right on a dodge from behind, and Dougherty stoned Riley Loewen's shot through traffic.

"Credit their goalie," Clark said of Dougherty, who made only six saves in the game, but one of them was the biggest. "He made a play to win the national championship. We had been trying to shoot high on him all day, and he stuffed us high. That was something else."

Dowling defenseman Matthew Lauria picked up the loose ball rebound and ran out the clock, turning the Golden Lions' sideline into a carnival.

"I couldn't be prouder. Even though we've had a very respectable lacrosse program for a very long time, people don't really know us. So it really means a lot," Boyle said. "It was unbelievable. You could just feel that emotion, and the same thing today, from all of the people behind us. The alumni, the families. This is not a program that has the storied history of some of the other Division I or Division II programs. But we've been fighting. We've been clawing. We've been battling. This is just the culmination of it all."

Seven players other than DeMola scored for Dowling, which set a new school record for victories (13) in a season. A key matchup came at the faceoff X, where Louis Riley won 14-of-25 draws against Jake Ternosky, the top specialist in the country.

Limestone, the two-time Division II national champion, finished the season at 17-2.

"I tried to talk to them a little bit about holding their heads high on the field," Clark said. "This senior class did a lot for this program, a lot for this team. One of the sayings in our pre-game prayer: "If we should lose, we'll stand by the side of the road and cheer as the winners go by." We did that. We held our heads high. It's a tough pill to swallow."

But the story Sunday was Dowling and DeMola, which followed through on its season goals by avenging its only two losses of the season.

"You can't write a better ending," Boyle said. "It just fell into place."

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