SOUTH BEND – Three decades at a training stop can sometimes feel like a lifetime. And in 34 years at Notre Dame, turning the Irish into an eternal lacrosse powerhouse, head coach Kevin Corrigan has seen a lot.
But it’s been a while since Corrigan and Notre Dame Lacrosse have been in that position.
Worrying about his post-season status. Sweating the Sunday of the selection.
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The Irish have qualified for 15 consecutive NCAA tournaments. A month ago, even as early as halftime in Saturday afternoon’s must-win home game against Duke, a 16th seemed more unlikely than a given.
But something changed at halftime. The Irish turned an 11-7 deficit into a 16-14 win. And maybe saved his season.
“I’ve never been prouder of a team,” Corrigan said. “Not only did we play a terrible second quarter and drop four points, but we went out in the second half and allowed a goal that wasn’t even meant to be a shot. A lot of teams would have thought that was it.
“We just carried on from there and made plays for the rest of the game.”
It was Notre Dame’s sixth straight win to close out the regular season. A touring season.
The reality of the lack of a post-season ticket had been building since mid-March when it started with its worst start to the season (2-4) since starting 2-3 in 2019-20.
These Irish never had the chance to change their season due to COVID-19. These Irish did it and found magic at the end of the season.
“At 2-4 they weren’t going to let it end like this,” Corrigan said of his players. “They didn’t crumble after that and they didn’t allow anyone to put their heads down.”
Saturday’s victory over Duke (11-6, 3-3 ACC) may not yet be enough to get Notre Dame (8-4, 5-1 ACC) into the tournament, but since early April, the Irish have done everything to be in office.
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“We then told our guys we had to earn the rest,” Corrigan said. “We didn’t mince words. We had to win six games in a row. That’s how we come to the tournament.”
Perhaps. This will be officially determined on tomorrow’s 9pm selection show on ESPNU.
The Irish may also have bounced the Blue Devils out of their own playoff pursuit. That’s how important Saturday’s game was, between two of the sport’s historic programs.
For most of the afternoon, it was Duke who looked more like the NCAA Tournament team. But the Irish weren’t quite done fighting for his season.
With the end of the week of rain, clear skies and 60 degree weather, and a fairly large crowd that understood the magnitude of the moment, Notre Dame scored six straight goals (Jake Taylor and Eric Dobson with three each ) to complete his furious comeback in the second half.
“We started making a few saves, our defense got tighter,” Corrigan said. “We stopped giving some of the easy looks that they had downstairs. Our guys, we constantly felt throughout the game that if we had good possessions we could get good shots. We have guys who can put the ball behind the fetch.”
Taylor, who finished with a team-high six goals on eight shots, was not only one of the scorers, but the spark plug.
Notre Dame has won every game since Corrigan put Taylor in the starting lineup against Syracuse on April 2.
“It’s our job to get the ball in the net and that’s what I have to do,” Taylor said.
Notre Dame took a 4-2 lead after the first quarter thanks to two late goals from Quinn McCahon and Pat Kavanagh, their 25th of the season leading the team. The second quarter was dominated by Duke, who outscored the Irish 9-3 behind four Dyson Williams goals and took their 11-7 lead at the break with all the momentum.
That’s when Notre Dame’s season ended, until it didn’t.
“There was a lot of talk (at halftime) about having the heart to do it and doing the right things,” Taylor said. “Just doing the little things, scoring one goal at a time. Lots of patience, lots of care and lots of heart.”
It took a lot of heart from Notre-Dame to get there. A chance to hear his name called tomorrow night. In Corrigan’s eyes, his team has done enough for that.
“I don’t control that. I hate not doing it. But we controlled what we could control, which was winning those six games in a row,” he said. “I don’t know how anyone looks at us in the last six weeks and says this is not a team that belongs in the tournament.”
As the Notre Dame players celebrated their victory, their shared conference championship, their career and their season on the field after the game, Corrigan was bombarded with congratulations, hugs and handshakes. Over the past three decades of success, these still haven’t aged.
At one point, a young Irish fan approached him with a request, wanting to bring home a used stick for the game.
“The sticks are for the end of the season,” Corrigan told him.
He and the Irish are hoping that doesn’t happen tomorrow night.