Players hurled their sticks skyward and fell over each other in exultation. For defending national champion C.W. Post, the prize for beating Dowling in this semifinal game of the NCAA Tournament is a return trip to the Division II title game. The Pioneers will face upstate Le Moyne next Sunday at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium, with a crowd of more than 20,000 expected.
"It's unbelievable," All-American midfielder Mike Cama said after host Post scored the final four goals for a 9-8 win. "We were in Boston last year; now we'll be in a different stadium. Not too many people can say they played in two different pro stadiums. It's unreal for me. It's like a dream. Winning [another title] is going to be even better."
Sophomore attack Eddie Plompen, who scored the tying goal with 5:40 left and the winning goal with 2:49 to play, added, "I'm really excited. This is one of the best feelings I've had in a long while."
The celebratory mood was in stark contrast with Post's grim situation in the third quarter. After taking a 5-2 lead, Post watched Dowling score six straight goals, the last on John McClure's fourth of the game, to take an 8-5 advantage with 6:34 left in the third. "Three goals is the window," Post coach John Jez said. "[If it] hits four, it's hard to get over. Three is pushing the limit."
What suddenly dawned on Post (15-1), Jez said, "was the thought of not making it back to the [finals]. Some of the senior leadership stepped up and said, 'We want to get that back.' ''
That included Cama, who was flat on his back at the end of the third quarter with leg cramps. Each time he tried to stand, his legs buckled like a newborn colt's and he fell. It did not appear the nation's leading faceoff performer would return. "But my heart took over my brain," Cama said with a grin. He won 13 of 20 faceoffs, each one hard-fought against Dowling freshman Louis Riley.
Dowling (12-2) could not find the net after McClure's last tally. "In the fourth, we just kept throwing the ball away a lot," said McClure, whose team had 29 turnovers. "It's a tough one to wash away. It's my last year here, so I'm done."
McClure ended his All-American career with 62 goals this season and 160 in four years. A pro career likely awaits.
Post's James Johnson scored an important goal in the final minute of the third, bringing the Pioneers within two. Mike Messina made it 8-7 with his unassisted goal at 8:30 of the fourth and Plompen took a pass from Keith Rodriguez to tie the score at 8.
Plompen's winning goal came on a feed from Nick Coric behind the net. Dowling still had one more chance to tie it, but McClure's shot in front of goalie Mike Giordano was deflected by defenseman Erik Boyd. "The weight was lifted off my shoulders," said Giordano, who made nine saves. "We're happy that it's over and we move on to the next step."