Skip to main content
Daniel Kelly

Ruppel, Kelly Play Hero as Maryland Downs Virginia in Overtime

March 18, 2023
Patrick Stevens
Maryland Athletics

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — There was never much question how badly Virginia wanted to pay back its two losses to Maryland last season. It was baked into Saturday’s game at Klöckner Stadium months before the opening faceoff.

But the lengths Maryland would go to prevent that from happening became evident just 81 seconds in when coach John Tillman called a timeout to prevent a turnover and preserve an offensive possession.

“They wanted blood today, and they’ve been fleecing people,” Tillman said afterward. “We talked about Mike Tyson all week and said, ‘The first five, six minutes are important.’ Early on, I was going to do whatever we needed to do just to let the game settle in.”

On an afternoon when every trip down the field as early as the first quarter seemed to carry weighty implications, it was fitting the last possession settled things. Daniel Kelly’s goal with 2:19 left in overtime secured a 14-13 victory before 5,745 fans, the largest crowd at Klöckner since April 6, 2013.

Virginia (6-1) lost for the first time since its NCAA quarterfinal loss to the Terrapins (5-2) last season. It was the third time in just inside a year the Cavaliers stumbled against Maryland.

Both of last season’s meetings were lopsided — the Terps’ 23-12 victory in March that announced just how large the yawning gap was between them and the rest of the country, and the 18-9 defensive masterpiece two months later in Columbus, Ohio.

“It definitely stings a lot more than any other loss would,” Virginia defenseman Cade Saustad said. “We really, really wanted to get this team, especially after what they did to us last year. It definitely burns.”

Added midfielder Thomas McConvey (four goals, one assist): “This is kind of the one we’ve had starred on our schedule for a while now.”

Saustad endured both of those losses last season. McConvey wasn’t part of Virginia’s program for those, but he was familiar enough with Maryland. The graduate transfer saw his last two seasons at Vermont end with first-round setbacks against the Terps.

Saturday was a little too chilly, a bit too raw to feel like late May. But truth be told, it felt like a worthy prelude to it, with two teams that Virginia coach Lars Tiffany observed have made a habit of ending each other’s season in recent years. And they may yet again in a couple months.

If they do, they’ll be hard-pressed to top a gem in which neither team led by more than three and both teams had chances to finish it off before Kelly’s winner.

“Could it be more even?” Tiffany said. “The ground ball stats [38-38]? The faceoff stats tied. The saves [were] just about tied.”

Maryland had its wobbliest moments in the second quarter, when Virginia’s physicality on the defensive end proved disruptive. The Cavaliers scored six in a row to take a 6-3 lead, only for Maryland to get one back before the break and then score six times in the third quarter.

The aim of hanging around secure, Maryland never trailed after Luke Wierman’s goal in the middle of the third quarter. But there was still work to do to prevent the Cavaliers from rallying back.

“I just felt like we needed to not get knocked out,” Tillman said. “You know us against them last year, we wanted blood. So that was the dilemma you were facing. You beat us last year, so we’re going to get you. And they are feeling it. That top six is so good.”

And Virginia issued a reminder of that after Jack Koras’ fourth goal put the Terps up 13-11 with 2:40 to go. Connor Shellenberger, held in check much of the afternoon by Ajax Zappitello, scored off a McConvey feed with 1:56 remaining. McConvey tied it 38 seconds later. And then Maryland nearly went back ahead when Wierman scored … only for Tillman to be awarded a timeout instead.

“I kind of joked with DK, ‘Thanks for bailing me out,’” Tillman said.

The Terps played for the last shot and ultimately went to overtime, where Wierman again won a faceoff and Maryland again called a timeout. The Terps coughed up possession, though, and the Cavaliers peppered freshman goalie Brian Ruppel on the ensuing trip down the field.

Three shots and three saves later, Maryland cleared it and covered a shot before Virginia called timeout.

“What a flurry by Ruppel there at the very end,” Tiffany said. “I think a lot of us were like, ‘The net’s going to move, the net’s going to move.’ And it didn’t move.”

Maryland seemed looser coming out of the final timeout, spinning it around a bit before freshman Braden Erksa found Kelly on the wing for a 15-yard dart that zipped past Matthew Nunes (16 saves) for the winner.

“After the second timeout, we just kind of said, ‘Let’s go out there and play and do our thing and move the ball and it will find somebody,’” Kelly said.

It was a moment of maturation for a Maryland team with a dramatically different look than last year’s juggernaut. Ruppel (14 saves) is a freshman who was making his fourth start. Erksa is a freshman who made his fifth start Saturday. Kelly was a reserve last year, albeit one who got into 14 games thanks to the ample number of blowouts the Terps produced.

This victory, one certain to carry value with the NCAA lacrosse committee when it selects and seeds the tournament field in May, came two weeks after a three-overtime loss to Notre Dame. Maryland didn’t finish the job that afternoon against an ACC power.

This time, it did — first by surviving the opening minutes, then by thriving against the potent Cavaliers.

“We knew it was going to be a 12-round battle,” Ruppel said. “Our coaches were saying it all week, and we battled through it all. We wish we could have ended it in regulation. Our offense did a great job of scoring. When it came down to it, we’d been here before and we knew what it took.”