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Lorton: In year of firsts, ND looks experienced (Dec. 16)

Isaac Lorton | Sunday, December 15, 2013

It was a season of firsts for Notre Dame.  It was the first time the Irish went to the College Cup.

It was the first time the Irish played in the National Championship game. 

And for the first time ever, the Irish are national champions.

No. 5 Maryland was a veteran in the College Cup, winning two National Titles since 2005. But the No. 3 Irish must have missed that memo.

Notre Dame captured the College Cup with a 2-1 comeback win over Maryland.

The score was unsettled between the two teams from the regular season. On Oct. 8, the Irish and Maryland tied 1-1, even through double-overtime. It was fitting that the two ACC teams got to slug it out in the biggest game of the year. Maryland may have won the ACC Championships, but Notre Dame won the National Championships.

Irish coach Bobby Clark teaches a strict team mentality – defend as a team, attack as a team, play as a team – and the Irish did just that. Everyone was involved but the victory was paved by the Irish seniors.

Two senior captains, forward Harrison Shipp and center back Andrew O’Malley, connected on a set piece for the game-winning goal in the 60th minute and senior Leon Brown had the equalizing goal to tie the game up at 1-1 in the 40th minute.

Notre Dame’s game-winning goal was the perfect way to send off two storied players of Notre Dame. After sophomore midfielder Evan Panken was fouled on the left side of the pitch, the wee wizard worked his magic on the delivery and O’Malley headed home the game-winner. It was O’Malley’s third goal on the season and Shipp’s 10th assist and 34th point.

Once Notre Dame got the lead, its stifling defense, led by senior center back Grant Van De Casteele, took over and shut down the Terrapins.  

For Brown, he did what he always does. He came off the bench and gave the Irish the spark they needed on a complete hustle-and-muscle play, for his sixth goal of the season. With a man at his heels, Brown shrugged off the pulls and pushes of the Maryland defender and then narrowly slipped the ball past Maryland freshman keeper Zack Steffen for the equalizer.

Notre Dame’s first and only goal ever conceded in the College Cup finals came in the 35th minute, to go down 1-0. And of course it was to Maryland senior Patrick Mullins.

Off of a Maryland corner, the ball was bouncing around the box and a Terrapin shot was put on net, Irish sophomore Patrick Hodan may or may not have used his arm to keep the ball out of the net. Maryland scored anyway.

Yet, Notre Dame is extremely lucky to not have that “hand ball” called. Hodan would have been automatically red-carded, the Terrapins awarded a penalty kick and Notre Dame would have had to play a man down for the remainder of the game. Hodan, who had scored six goals in the past five games, was Notre Dame’s most prolific scorer throughout the tournament. 

Both teams hesitated thinking the “hand ball” would be called. Everyone paused, except for Mullins. He didn’t hesitate. The 2012 All-American and Hermann Trophy finalist two years running, gathered the ball amid the confusion and ripped a left-foot shot past Irish senior goalkeeper Patrick Wall. 

But the Irish have a Hermann Trophy finalist and All-American of their own, in Shipp.

People may claim the hand ball affected Maryland’s chances, but the Terrapins scored on the play anyhow, and then Notre Dame outplayed them for the remainder of the game.

It may have been Notre Dame’s first appearance in the National Championships, but on their way to victory, the Irish looked like they had been there before.   

Contact Isaac Lorton at ilorton@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.