(Story Courtesy of Denison Sports Information Department)
Powered by a ferocious fourth quarter comeback, No. 5 Denison had momentum on their side and No. 1 Salisbury on the ropes. With 31 seconds left, trailing 12-11, the Big Red had the ball with a chance to tie the game and force overtime with the Sea Gulls for the second-straight year.
All of that momentum hit the skids when Salisbury defenseman Aaron Leeds anticipated a pass from Denison's Liam Rooney (Redding, CT/Joel Barlow) with 10 seconds left. Leeds picked it off, quickly clearing the ball into Salisbury territory to ice a 12-11 victory for the Sea Gulls and extinguish championship the Big Red's championship dreams for another year.
With the win, Salisbury advances to the national championship game next weekend in Foxborough, Massachusetts where they will face RIT for the title. Denison ends its season at 18-2 having advanced to the NCAA semifinals for the third time in program history.
Denison and Salisbury entered the game as evenly matched on paper as any two teams in the country. When the margin of error is that minuscule, the smallest of runs can feel as if the world is crashing down around you. Salisbury's big run came in the second quarter where they scored four-straight to take a 7-3 lead. A solid third quarter for the Sea Gulls resulted in their largest lead at 10-5 with 4:48 left in the quarter.
Less than a minute later, Denison's Teddy Sawyer (Lutherville, MD/McDonogh School) secured a loose ball at midfield and flipped the ball to Will Donohue (Charlotte, NC/Charlotte Latin School) who scored from 10-yards out. Over the final four minutes of the third, neither team scored and that allowed the Big Red to gain some confidence and composure entering the final quarter.
One minute into the fourth, Alex Paulus (Bath, ME/Morse) stepped into one from 12-yards out on a pass from Rooney to make it a 10-7 contest. Another minute elapsed, then Donohue scored on Rooney's third assist of the day to make it, 10-8.
After a DU turnover, Salisbury capitalized when Kevin McDermott fed Nick Garbarino for his fifth goal of the afternoon, putting SU back on top by three.
Denison remained focused, winning the ensuing faceoff. On the ground ball scoop, Henry DeCamp (Washington, DC/Deerfield Academy) got out in transition and fed Donohue who went low on Sea Gull goalie Colin Reymann for his fourth goal of the game and 64th of the season.
Salisbury increased their lead to three when Corey Gwin sidestepped the Denison defense to score on the doorstep. With 8:19 remaining, SU held a 12-9 lead.
A long possession from Denison was cashed in as Donohue scored on a pass from Pittroff with 4:23 left. Denison regained possession on a loose ball push by the Sea Gulls only to have Davy's shot draw iron and ricochet back toward midfield. The Big Red regained possession and Davy's second attempt was saved by Reymann.
Just when it was looking as if Denison's opportunity may have passed them by, junior defensive midfielder Hannibal George picked off a clearing pass by Reymann just beyond midfield. With the Salisbury goalie out of position, George sent a 40-yard shot over Reymann's head and into the goal. With 2:50 remaining, Denison had cut the deficit to 12-11.
Salisbury won a long drawn out faceoff deep in their own territory. Taking possession with 1:45 left, officials quickly put Salisbury on the clock. Denison's defense clamped down, forcing a shot clock violation and turnover with 47 seconds to play.
That led to Leeds' fifth caused turnover and ground ball of the afternoon and the eventual victory for Salisbury.
Donohue led Denison with five goals on eight shots. He and Spencer Butler (Essex Falls, NJ/Millbrook School) end the year with 65 goals, tying for the single-season record at DU. Rooney's All-American career also comes to an end with a one goal, three assist effort. He closed out 2017 with 88 assists, the third-most assists ever in a single season in Division III.
Sawyer and George led the defense with two caused turnovers apiece. In all, Denison caused eight of Salisbury's 15 turnovers. Conversely, Salisbury had a direct hand in 11 of the Big Red's 16 miscues. Leeds, who ended up being the hero for the home team, had five caused turnovers and five ground balls.
Garbarino paced Salisbury with five goals on 11 shots. All-American and player of the year candidate, Nathan Blondino was held to one goal and one assist on only two shot attempts.
In goal, Denison's Stephen Paras posted five saves while Reymann ended with four.
In the team totals, Denison edged Salisbury in shots, 31-30 and won the ground ball battle, 33-26. Turnovers were 16-15 in favor of Salisbury and the Sea Gulls were 1-for-3 in extra-man. Denison, who entered the game with the nation's top man-up conversion percentage, was 0-for-4.
With the win, Salisbury's NCAA home winning streak is extended to 40. Their last home defeat in the NCAA Tournament came at the hands of Denison in 2001.