In a gesture of good, clean sportsmanship, circa 1907, Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore gave lacrosse lessons to its then friendly neighbor in nearby Annapolis, the U.S. Naval Academy. Playing its first game the following year Navy was thoroughly thrashed 6-1—by Johns Hopkins. “They taught us everything they knew—up to a fine, small point,” a Navy lacrosse coach reflected the other day.
Navy has not forgotten the slight and never overlooks a chance for settling—and re-settling—the old score. Last Saturday in Annapolis, before the biggest paid crowd (14,100) ever to watch an intercollegiate lacrosse game, Navy added to its measure of revenge in a meeting of undefeated teams that may have settled a national championship, too. When the head-banging and shin-barking was over, Navy had beaten Hopkins 16-11.
What hurt Hopkins the most was the fact that had it won this game it would have been Hopkins that was headed for the national title. This would probably (and properly, they say) have put the championship in Baltimore, the GHQ of lacrosse. But that’s how it’s been for three years running; Hopkins no more than gets its foot in the championship door than Navy ungallantly slams it.
The pattern that evolved in this year’s episode of the neighborhood rumble came as no surprise to Navy’s tacticians. Even the score was closely estimated in advance by a Navy coach, who astutely predicted a 15-9 victory for the Midshipmen.
“We’ll concede the early goals to Hopkins and then swallow them whole in the second half,” said Assistant Coach Dick Corrigan. Corrigan’s logic was based on some demonstrable facts. He knew—and dearly appreciated—that Hopkins had Henry Ciccarone and All-America Jerry Schmidt (SI, April 23), possibly the two finest college lacrosse players in the country. And, like Jason’s warriors springing full-grown from the dragon’s teeth, virtually every man on the Hopkins team had sprung from the lacrosse-fertile soil of Baltimore. Each of them had a reputation for being in the right spot at the right time and for being breathtakingly adept at manipulating that unwieldy-looking instrument, the lacrosse stick.
But, though Navy had no Schmidt and no longer a Ciccarone (he is a former Midshipman), it had capable players, and plenty of them, for every position. Hopkins’ talent was considerable but its ranks were thin, and Navy planned to win by the weight of numbers.
Accordingly, Navy was determined never to slow down, especially on defense. When a Hopkins man had the ball, the Navy men had orders to run him until he got rid of it. If a Navy man got tired, he had only to show it and a fresh reservist would be dispatched to the front immediately. A certain risk was involved, because this unusual lacrosse version of basketball’s full-court-press defense occasionally would let a Hopkins man get a clear shot at Navy’s goal. But Navy was cockily confident it could make up any deficit once Hopkins’ tongue was hanging. And, sure enough, it did.
Behind, but not unnerved
Controlling the face-offs from the very beginning (“That helped kill us right there,” Bob Scott, the Hopkins coach, said later), Navy scored twice in the first three minutes—the second goal by blocky Midfielder Pete Taylor, Navy’s highest lacrosse scorer this season, with 18 goals. (Significantly, it was Taylor’s only point of the day, an index to the fine overall balance of the Navy attack.) But then, even as Corrigan had foreseen, Johns Hopkins’ nimble opportunists broke through Navy’s swirling defense five straight times to score. Despite this upsetting flurry, Navy stuck undaunted to its pressing tactics—and also came up with four more goals of its own while on offense. At the half the game was tied 6-6.
The second half, while still following the Navy’s plan, looked like a different game. Hopkins was tiring, but Navy, having digested half-time oranges, Cokes and pep talks, was as fresh as ever. Freshest of all was Arnold Glassner, a sort of lacrosse garbage man who specializes in collecting loose balls around the goal mouth and throwing them home. Plying his trade, the midfielder scored three times in the space of 50 seconds, once by flipping the ball offhandedly over his shoulder. “That was our undoing, ” Hopkins’ Scott said afterward. “Physically I think we were holding up a lot better than Navy had expected us to, but then that Glassner broke our spirit.”
Not even lucky
From then on, Hopkins abandoned its crisp, short passes and turned instead to the long and desperate heaves that mark the throes of a losing team in several sports. But by now Hopkins’ luck, like its wind, was coming only in gasps. More often than not, a Navy man was waiting downfield for the long Hopkins pass. Jerry Schmidt might ordinarily have been clear to get such passes, but he was faced with the terrier tenacity of Navy Defense-man John Newton. Schmidt, with four goals, was Hopkins’ high scorer, to be sure, but he made all of them while Newton was on the sidelines.
Hopkins’ Ciccarone, meanwhile, despite a Navy defense tactic created in his honor, played with his usual verve—he scored two goals and assisted on two more. Said Navy’s John Hewitt, a lacrosse midfielder who is better known as captain of the football team: “Ciccarone can be walking one second and gone the next.” Ciccarone was flattened by a block at one point, for example, but without losing the ball he got up, ran half the length of the field and whipped a fine shot past the dismayed Navy goalie for a score.
Such glimpses of brilliance were too infrequent under the oppressive blanket of Navy’s steady pressure; the Midshipmen had taken charge of the proceedings early and imperiously directed the way the game was to go. Now virtually assured of at least a tie for the national title, Navy will try to do the same thing again in its last two college games and take the championship all for itself. Only one team has any real chance to upset the plan. And, like Hopkins, it is another old enemy—Army.