October 24, 2013

Remember the Titans

Detroit Mercy's near-upset of Irish was best game of 2013

by Matt DaSilva | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

A version of this article appears in the November 2013 issue of Lacrosse Magazine, the flagship publication of US Lacrosse. Don't get the mag? Join US Lacrosse and its 400,000-plus members today to start your subscription.
© John Strohsacker

Around this time of year, Lacrosse Magazine ramps up its annual "Best of Lacrosse" awards. You can join the conversation at LaxMagazine.com/BestOfLacrosse2013 or on Twitter (#BestOfLax).

My pick for the best game of 2013? Detroit Mercy's near-upset of Notre Dame in the NCAA men's tournament. I'm only one vote, but that game gets the nod over trendier contenders, like Casey Powell's comeback game with the Chesapeake Bayhawks, the epic NCAA Division I women's final, Duke's heart-stopping wins over the Loyola and Cornell men, and Canada-Australia in the FIL Women's World Cup.

How could you not be enamored with Detroit Mercy, a team that was 2-9 with two weeks left in the season and rallied to win its conference championship to make the dance at 5-9? How could you not root for a team from a city with so little to cheer about since the economic collapse of 2008? How could you not watch with bated breath as the Titans put the mighty Irish on the ropes in South Bend?

No MAAC representative had ever won an NCAA tournament game. Nor had a sub-.500 team.

But there were the Titans, a devil-may-care collection of overlooked players from Canada and the Midwest, imposing their will on the Irish, a final four favorite since the season started.

For three quarters, Notre Dame had no answer for Detroit Mercy's rangy defensemen — namely Jordan Houtby, the Canadian national team hopeful whose 158 career caused turnovers were the most by any player since the NCAA started tracking them in 2010.

For three quarters, the Titans reduced the Irish's well-reputed defense to ball-watchers and bystanders, as they expertly milked possessions and capitalized in timer-on situations.

For three quarters, Notre Dame looked lost on faceoffs, making Damien Hicks look like Alex Smith as he won nine of the first 12.

Detroit Mercy was on the brink of the biggest upset in NCAA tournament history.

And then Irish coach Kevin Corrigan did his best Mickey Goldmill impression.

You remember The Mick, don't you? He was Rocky Balboa's trainer, played by the late Burgess Meredith, in the "Rocky" films. In "Rocky II," Mickey trains Rocky to fight right-handed, even though he's a lefty. Rocky takes Apollo Creed to the 15th round, at which point Mickey gives Rocky the green light to switch back to southpaw, turning the tide of the fight.

In his back pocket, Corrigan had Notre Dame's seldom-used 10-man ride. And he showed remarkable restraint, waiting until the start of the fourth quarter to unleash it.

Like the rejuvenated Rocky, the Irish came out swinging. They rode like their lives depended on it, forced six Detroit Mercy turnovers, won six of seven faceoffs, scored four goals in the first five minutes to tie the game at 7 and eventually won 9-7.

The "Rocky" analogy works, until you realize that in this game, Notre Dame was Apollo. That the Irish had to resort to such gimmickry says a lot about the resolve of the Titans — which inspired us to make Detroit Mercy the centerpiece of this special fitness edition of Lacrosse Magazine.

Coaches Matt Holtz and Laura Maness have embraced Detroit's rugged reputation by challenging players to do the same. Holz's men do an annual "Run to the Fist," an 8.7 mile team-toughening jaunt through downtown landmarks ending at the Joe Louis Fist. Maness' women started a new tradition this year, the "SUV Push and Run," where players take turns in twos willing an occupied vehicle around an empty, dim-lit parking lot. Featured gym rats Troy Dennis and Kylie Birney take Detroit's blue-collar mentality to a new level.


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