As they prepared to make the long walk across the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium turf to their locker room, Ohio State players made only passing glances at Maryland celebrating a Big Ten lacrosse tournament championship with gusto and maybe some relief.
The Terrapins edged the Buckeyes 10-9 only after defenseman Ben Randall was stripped of the ball by midfielder Jared Bernhardt on a head-on rush to the goal in the final minute in attempt to tie the score.
“I can tell you how I felt in the locker room after that Big Ten game," Ohio State coach Nick Myers said. “At the end of the day, we felt we ran out of time. We looked at each other, and without knowing how this was going to turn out that, hey, we’re going to see these guys again if we can take care of business."
The Buckeyes (16-4) have taken care of their end by defeating Loyola of Maryland, Duke and Towson to earn a rematch with the Terps (15-3) at 1 p.m. Monday in the NCAA championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass.
This is the rubber game — Ohio State won 11-10 in overtime on April 22 at Ohio Stadium. But there is so much more on the line Monday.
Maryland is one of the pioneers of collegiate lacrosse, but has lost nine championship games since winning its lone title in 1975. In this decade alone, it lost in 2011, ’12, ’15 and ’16.
With a victory, the Buckeyes might be stamped as the rising power on the block. They had never advanced beyond the quarterfinals before this season.
“I’m excited to play Maryland — the whole team is excited to play Maryland," senior attacker Eric Fannell said. “When we play them that brings out our best. We couldn’t be more thrilled to play Maryland again, especially on the biggest stage of NCAA lacrosse."
Senior face-off specialist Jake Withers said the players must shake off setbacks like they did in overcoming a five-goal deficit to defeat Towson 11-10 in a national semifinal on Saturday.
“Coach always likes to mention that there always are going to be storms in the weather," he said. “I’ve just got to keep my composure as the game goes along no matter what they throw at me."
In a 15-13 Big Ten semifinal victory over Johns Hopkins, Withers overcame rough-housing tactics in which he was hit from all sides whether he had the ball or not.
Maryland had five players chosen in the Major League Lacrosse draft Sunday, beginning with senior attacker Matt Rambo as the No. 3 overall pick by Charlotte.
Rambo is the odds-on favorite to win the Heisman Trophy of lacrosse, the Tewaaraton Award. He has 85 points this season and 60 points in 13 career NCAA tournament games.
“He’s a dynamic player," Myers said. “But there are going to be about five or six players to defend. They play good team offense. They do a good job of keeping you unsettled."
Tre Leclaire, a freshman attacker, doesn’t think the Buckeyes will come out unsure of itself as it did against Towson.
“This is the big stage and I think we’re ready," he said. “I think Ohio State has been overlooked in the past."