PHILADELPHIA -- It was the ultimate mic-drop moment, even if Wesley Berg barely remembered it: Nanoseconds after scoring the winning goal in overtime and delivering Denver into its first NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship final, one of the all-time leading scorers in collegiate history dropped his stick and stared toward the Pioneers' sideline before being absorbed into a sea of celebratory teammates and coaches.
The moment was so dramatic, so perfect, it relegated his team giving up a four-goal lead over the final four minutes of regulation a mere footnote.
Instead, Berg’s third and final goal 2:03 into extra time assured fourth-seeded Denver of an 11-10 victory against No. 1 seed Notre Dame and, after three consecutive semifinal exits, a trip to Monday’s title game against either Maryland or Johns Hopkins at Lincoln Financial Field.
A little more than 10 minutes before Notre Dame (12-3) capped a frenzied comeback, Berg provided the crowd with a jaw-dropping, highlight-reel goal-- and certainly seemed to dash any designs of a Fighting Irish comeback..
Before falling to the turf, Berg shifted his stick behind his back and grounded a shot across the goal line. Denver (16-2) led 10-6 with 4:23 remaining
“It was kind of a scramble in front,” Berg said. “I just wanted to get it on net. I saw the goalie out of position and just reverse backhanded it into the net.”
From cruising into the final, the closing stretch turned chaotic as Notre Dame refused to fade away. Sergio Pekovic tallied the last three of his five fourth-quarter goals across a span of 1:35 that pulled the Fighting Irish within 10-9 with 2:03 remaining.
“When we were down by four, we weren't worried too much,” said Perkovic, who scored a game-high six goals. “We just wanted to play aggressive and get back in the game.”
Even as the Pioneers appeared poise to bleed out the final seconds, a turnover deep in Notre Dame's end enabled it to call a timeout with 22.8 seconds left. This set the stage for Nick Ossello's tying goal with nine seconds remaining, casting a significant shadow of doubt over Denver's hopes of a long-awaited breakthrough on championship weekend.
“It's always a war with Notre Dame,” Denver coach Bill Tierney said. “We thought being up four with four minutes to go maybe it wouldn't be.”
Notre Dame even won the opening faceoff to begin overtime, but turned the ball over near the Denver net. Tierney then called a timeout and drew up a play for Zach Miller, who worked the ball around instead of forcing the issue.
“As soon as the offense got the ball, we had that feeling inside that we were going to score,” said goalie Ryan LaPlante (13 saves).
After his teammates worked the ball around the perimeter, Berg was positioned a few feet from the goalie circle, ready to fire once Tyler Pace's pass found his stick. Within seconds of his 53rd goal finding the back of the net, his stick dropped to the turf and the Pioneers celebrated their first trip to the NCAA championship game.
“This is a tough situation to prepare in one day for a powerful team like Maryland or Hopkins,” Tierney said. “But as we always say, it beats the alternative.”