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February 7, 2014

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Virginia-Loyola was Epic. But How Epic?

"I've never shot so hard in my life. I closed my eyes and let loose."
-Virginia's Ryan Tucker on his game-tying goal at 0:00.1 in the 4th quarter.
(John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

Related: Game Recap with Highlights and Postgame Interviews

Within minutes of the crazy ending to Thursday night's Virginia-Loyola thriller at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, the Twitter-verse was already abuzz with people's instant reaction to the ending, and whether or not that game would be -- despite it's happening on Feb. 6 -- the best lacrosse game that would happen all season.

Loyola rallied from down 12-4 at the start of the fourth quarter to score nine straight goals and take the lead at 13-12 with just under 30 seconds remaining. But Virginia managed to rally, with Ryan Tucker scoring the equalizer with 0:00.1 on the clock, and James Pannell won it in overtime with his fourth goal.

Obviously it's too early to consider whether or not this one will be the best game of 2014 -- it was the first top-20 game in lacrosse for any division over either gender -- though it certainly set a high bar to follow. But where does it stack up compared to epic games in previous years?

The first one that came to my mind (and the mind of LM photographer John Strohsacker, who was in Charlottesville shooting the game) was the 1998 FIL World Championship final between the United States and Canada (which he also photographed for US Lacrosse).

In that one, the Americans jumped out to a laughably large lead -- at most, it was 10 goals -- only to see Canada storm back and tie the game at 13 and send it to overtime.

Not the exact same script as last night, but not terribly far off, either.

In a story on that gold medal game for Lacrosse Magazine leading up to the Hall of Fame induction of three players from that 1998 team -- which outscored Canada 2-1 in overtime to win gold -- Ryan Wade said, "I don't even remember the first half, I just remember that last period and overtime."

Another game that jumped out in my mind was the crazy finish to the 2009 NCAA Division I men's final, where Cornell led late against Syracuse, but the Orange pulled off the crazy "Foxborough Flip" play -- the broken clear scramble that wound up with Syracuse's Kenny Nims scoring the equalizer with 4.5 seconds in a game which the Orange's Cody Jamieson won in overtime. In that one, the rally wasn't nearly as huge, and the team that coughed up the lead didn't win in the end, but it had that similar fever pitch.

Ironically enough, I just talked to Team USA hopeful and "human clear" Matt Abbott about that game for an upcoming magazine article. He was the one who found Nims with a desperation flip pass.

"It all happened really fast," Abbott said. "I didn't even see [Nims'] goal until after the game... Even if we had a million tries, we probably couldn't do it again that way... I still watch it on YouTube and get goosebumps every time I watch it."

So was there a similarly incredulous/amazed quote from last night's contest? Take it away, Virginia coach Dom Starsia.

"I can't remember any game like this," said Starsia, who played in another USA-Canada game that went to overtime, the 1978 FIL Final. "I can't ever remember being a part of something like this and I have been a part of games where there has been a severe momentum swing. But not to this degree and not to the sense of one team being able to make every play. We just couldn't get the ball. I didn't feel like we stopped playing, they just started making plays. We just seemed to always be behind the eight ball in the fourth. It certainly is a great win for us at the end of the day and a good way to open the season."

Obviously those are just three of what are probably many examples that lacrosse fans can point out, but the fun thing to realize is that it's only Feb. 7, and we're already having this conversation.

Lacrosse season officially is here.

Got a contender for "best game/crazy finish" that compares to this one? Drop it in the comments and share in the glow of Thursday's barnburner in Charlottesville.


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