COLLEGE PARK, Md.--With 54 seconds left in the first overtime period of the Harvard women's lacrosse team's NCAA semifinal game against Virginia here at Byrd Stadium Saturday, Cavalier senior Anna Yates lofted a pass from behind the Crimson's goal.
The scoreboard read 10-10. Punch for punch, knockdown for knockdown, Virginia and Harvard had stayed with each other for the entire game like two heavyweights: bobbing, weaving and trading hits.
But now, Yates' pass hung in the air in front of the Harvard goal. Virginia senior Amy Breen brought it down, reaching up into the air and firing the ball past Harvard goalie Liz Williamson in one smooth motion.
With Breen's shot, the bell tolled for the Crimson. The Cavaliers took an 11-10 lead which it held for the final four minutes of overtime. Virginia secured a spot in the title game and ended the Crimson's long-shot hopes for a second NCAA championship.
Harvard's season was over. Its 10-game winning streak was over. The long and eventful careers of Co-Captains Rachel Burke and Liz Berkery were over. An epic battle that matched two teams with completely different playing styles was over.
The Crimson had fought back from a late two-goal deficit in the second half. Junior Emily Buxton cut the lead to one with 4:04 left in the game and freshman Megan Hall knot the game, 10-10, with her tally with 2:48 to go.
Each team had one more chance to win the contest in regulation, but Williamson made a huge save with 24 seconds left when she stuffed Cavalier attacker Erin Stewart (who had already scored twice). Harvard raced down the field for one more try, but although junior Sarah Downing took two illegal checks on her arm in the Cavalier zone, the officials did not call a foul and the ball fell on the grass, harmless. The game went into overtime.
"I thought we had the momentum going into overtime," Harvard Coach Carole Kleinfelder said. "We had pretty effectively shut him down at the end, and I felt pretty good."
But in the extra periods, Virginia's methodical attack took over and Cavalier goalie Kim Prendergast (19 saves on 29 shots) made some clutch stops to win the game.
The fight was finally over.
Harvard's run-and-gun attack began the game in top form as the Crimson bolted to a three-goal lead in the first five minutes of the half.
Berkery (one goal, two assists), junior Sarah Downing (one goal, one assist), and sophomore Sarah Winters (four goals) blazed by defenders, and the Crimson looked more like a track team than a lacrosse squad.
"Our kids had never seen a team with that kind of speed and quickness," Virginia Coach Jane Miller said.
Yates' first goal of the game (the Annandale, Va. senior would score three more before lofting that fateful overtime pass to Breen) put the Cavaliers on the board and Virginia finally regained the composure that made it the top-ranked team in the nation for much on the season and the top-seeded team here in the Final Four.
Each time Harvard tried to extend the lead to more than three goals, Virginia treeled the Crimson back in its sights with a clutch score. The Cavaliers' methodical half-field offense relied on picks and quick cuts to give its forwards open shots on Williamson (eight saves on 31 shots).
And with 58 seconds left in the first period, Breen scored her first goal of the game to cut Harvard's lead to one. The Crimson went into halftime with a shaky 6-5 advantage, but Virginia went into halftime with the knowledge that it could handle the Crimson.
"I felt we had taken their heaviest hit and survived," Miller said. "[Harvard] is a fast, fit team and once we survived the first half, that's where we got our confidence."
Virginia immediately tied the game at six on Stewart's first goal of the game of the game. The Crimson and the Cavaliers tied each other three more times and traded the lead twice. Then, with 7:48 left in the game, Yates gave Virginia a two-goal lead that looked like it would hold until the end.
But the Crimson came back, only to see its hopes of sitting on the NCAA throne once again dashed in overtime. Then, finally, it was all over.
Over. VIRGINIA, 11-10 (OT) at Byrd Stadium College Park, Mid. Harvard 6 4 0 -- 10 Virginia 5 5 1 -- 11
Har--Downing (Colligan), 26:34.
Har--Winters (Alissi), 20:18.
Virg-Goshringer (Greer) 9:29.
Virg--Yates (Cowan), 5:26.
Har--Winters (Welton), 2:46.
Har-Winters (Berliery), 19:16.
Virg-Greer (Stewart), 15:54.
Virg-Stewart (Breen), 11:47.
Har-Buxton (Barkery), 4:04.
Har-Hall (Downing), 2:28.
Virg--Brean (Yates), 0:54 (first overtime).