Duke's Fowler helps Blue Devils rally past Syracuse for title

CorrespondentMay 27, 2013 

— Faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler was perhaps the only constant in a forgettable first month of Duke’s lacrosse season.

While the rest of the Blue Devils eventually came along, Fowler remained strong until the year’s final game.

Fowler won 20 of 28 faceoffs Monday and was named the NCAA tournament’s most outstanding player, helping seventh-seeded Duke erase an early five-goal deficit and surge past top-seeded Syracuse 16-10 before 28,224 at Lincoln Financial Field.

Jordan Wolf scored four goals for the Blue Devils (16-5), who lost just once in their final 15 en route to their second national title in four years.

This was different than Duke’s first title, which capped a period of four years spent under scrutiny after the 2006 season was halted in the wake of rape accusations later proven false. This time, it was all about lacrosse and coach John Danowski’s methods of maintaining the Blue Devils’ presence on the national stage when so many other programs rise and fall.

“I think it validates maybe what we do and who our kids are and the quality of our program,” Danowski said.

Fowler’s presence helped make it happen.

The junior, who plays linebacker for the Blue Devils’ football team and wasn’t recruited to Duke for lacrosse, obliterated the NCAA records for faceoffs won (339) and taken (526) in a season and figured to be an overwhelming asset against the Orange (16-4). Yet Syracuse snagged two of five faceoffs in the first quarter en route to a 5-0 lead.

“Early on I violated a few times and kind of let it get to my head a little bit,” Fowler said. “Once I cooled down and stuck to what I do every day, I got into a groove there and just felt pretty good going out there every time.”

Yet Duke still faced a deficit. All year, Danowski wondered if the day would come when Fowler wouldn’t dominate. The Blue Devils tried to have a plan in case it happened, but they never needed it.

It was also unnecessary Monday. Danowski acknowledged “inside, I think we were all freaking out,” but any anxiety vanished as Fowler won 13 consecutive faceoffs and the Blue Devils gradually reeled in the Orange.

Syracuse’s lead shrank to 6-5 at halftime. Duke took its first lead at 8-7 with 2:01 left in the third quarter. Less than seven minutes later, the Blue Devils were up 13-7.

You think “ ‘Maybe this is the day we’re just going to get whipped.’ And why wouldn’t you?” Danowski said. “But Brendan, once again, was that steadying, calming influence that allowed us to get to one and then we get to two.”

The Orange threw six faceoff men at Fowler, with only defenseman Brian Megill managing any success against the first player to earn most outstanding player honors without scoring a goal or making a save in the championship game.

Fowler’s effectiveness limited Syracuse to 14 shots on goal in the final three quarters; Duke scored 16 goals during that stretch.

“I told John after the game to buy his faceoff guy a big steak, because he deserves it,” Syracuse coach John Desko said.

The Blue Devils tied Virginia’s 2011 squad as the lowest-seeded team to win the Division 1 lacrosse tournament, in the process permitting a senior class that helped snag the program’s first national title in 2010 go out as they came in: As champions.

“It sounds pretty good right now and I’ll take it,” midfielder Jake Tripucka said. “Going out a winner in anything is awesome. “

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service