BALTIMORE — There were hugs, handshakes and plenty of tears. The Duke lacrosse team had run through a myriad of emotions over the past 14 months, and now it was over.
The Blue Devils had an almost unfathomable comeback fall short in a 12-11 loss to Johns Hopkins in the NCAA championship game Monday, and afterward the locker room was eerily silent.
No team had ever experienced what Duke had endured. The Blue Devils never even got the chance to finish their 2006 season, and then made it all the way back to the title game.
Minutes after the loss, however, that was no consolation.
“Right now I think everyone in here is thinking, ‘Wow, we just lost the national championship.’ In a couple of weeks, maybe we’ll say, ‘Look what we accomplished,’” goaltender Dan Loftus said. “But we wanted a national championship. That’s what we came here for.”
It would have been a Hollywood story: Duke completes its emotional comeback season by winning its first national title before a record crowd.
But Johns Hopkins wrote its own ending.
“We used it as motivation,” Blue Jays midfielder Stephen Peyser said. “When we first got here, we were the forgotten sons. We said we were going to sneak up on everyone, and when it’s our time, we would show the world what we’re made of.”
The result left Duke’s players engulfed in an emotion they hadn’t experienced in nearly a year — bitter disappointment.
“It’s just an extreme feeling of emptiness,” said senior Matt Danowski, who broke down in tears during his post-game interview. “Nobody has been through what we’ve been through. To know the bond that I share with these guys, I can’t describe it in words. I’m going to miss it.”
Despite the defeat, Duke’s performance effectively eliminated the residue of an agonizing 2006 season that was canceled after eight games.
The Blue Devils fell 9-8 to Hopkins in the 2005 title game, but missed a chance to return to the Final Four in 2006 after a woman hired to strip at a team party claimed she was attacked by three Duke players.
The allegations, which included rape and kidnapping charges, ultimately proved to be false. But the revelation came too late to save Duke’s season or the job of coach Mike Pressler, who watched Monday’s game among the championship-game record crowd of 48,443 while first-year coach John Danowski, Matt’s father, ran a team consisting of dozens of Pressler recruits.
At game’s end, Pressler hung his head. But he visited with his former players after it was over.
John Danowski expressed pride in being able to coach this team, which accomplished everything it set out to do until coming up a goal short in its final test.
“As you can imagine, it was emotional afterward,” John Danowski said. “It’s been a (heck) of a ride, and I thank the students at Duke University for giving me the opportunity to be here.”
The Blue Jays (13-4) never trailed in winning their ninth national championship. But they blew a six-goal halftime lead and found themselves locked in a tie at 11 after Duke’s Max Quinzani scored with 4:37 remaining.
Hopkins attackman Kevin Huntley followed with his third goal of the game, with 3:25 to go, but the Blue Jays couldn’t celebrate until Quinzani’s shot went wide of the goal as time expired.
“I thought it was going in. It must have been an inch-and-a-half wide of that bottom right corner,” Quinzani said.
Ten seconds earlier, Hopkins goalie Jesse Schwartzman blocked a shot by Brad Ross.
After the clock expired, the Blue Jays celebrated, and the Blue Devils (17-3) gathered in a somber huddle in front of their bench.
“Last year just made us a tighter group,” Quinzani said. “That’s why so many of us are so emotional right now.”
Duke came up short, but could take consolation in at least playing the game. One year earlier, their season ended after a loss to Cornell on March 21.
“Coach reminded us what a great season it was and that we should be proud of ourselves,” senior Ed Douglas said, “but certainly it hurts.” Ned Crotty scored three goals for the Blue Devils, who came into the game with a school-record 12-game winning streak, a run that included an 11-9 win over Hopkins on April 7.
Jake Byrne scored four goals, and Paul Rabil had a goal and five assists for Hopkins.
Duke trailed 10-4 at halftime, then blanked Hopkins in the third period and closed to 10-9 entering the final period.
Quinzani started the comeback by scoring with 10:50 left in the third quarter, and Crotty scored 24 seconds later. Goals by Ross, Mike Catalino and Peter Lamade followed, getting the Blue Devils to 10-9 with 5:21 left in the period.
Rabil ended Hopkins’ drought early in the fourth quarter, but Matt Danowski answered with 12:29 left, setting the stage for the exciting finish.
Byrne scored four goals in the first half, and the Blue Jays outshot Duke 27-12 and won 12 of 16 faceoffs.
Hopkins needed only 12 seconds to get the game’s first goal and led 4-2 after the first period. The Blue Jays won all seven faceoffs in the opening quarter and limited Duke to only four shots.