Monday, November 28

Andy Moe’s title-winning goal put Princeton on lacrosse map

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On Memorial Day 30 years ago, a goal nine seconds into double overtime of the NCAA men’s lacrosse national championship game transformed Princeton’s program while becoming among the most enduring and revisited moments in the sport’s history.

Andy Moe, the Chevy Chase, Md.-raised player responsible for the goal that toppled mighty Syracuse, 10-9, and delivered the Tigers their first of six national titles, hasn’t played competitively since that steamy afternoon at the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field in 1992.

Then a fifth-year senior, Moe, devoted to lacrosse but never consumed by it, instead has sought other avenues of fulfillment since graduating, including writing — he took a crack at the Great American Novel, newspapers and screenplays — teaching tango and crafting furniture .

The last of those pursuits landed Moe in Portland, Ore., where he and his wife managed a thriving custom furniture business. Rarely does Moe watch replays of his transcendent athletic achievement from him, with one notable exception.

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“Only when my daughter asks,” the 1987 graduate of St. Albans in Northwest said. “I was thinking about it the other day. I don’t think I even have my stick. I have no idea where it went.”

Clutching that stick with both hands, Moe had scooped a groundball steps from the faceoff circle, where teammate Greg Waller won the opening draw in the second overtime, and sprinted down the right side of the field, expecting a defenseman to slide to him.

None did, and Moe, one of Princeton’s speediest players, was able to separate from the short-stick midfielder on his hip. During the sequence Tigers attackman Taylor Simmers ran across the front of the goal, pulling his defender away from the crease and allowing Moe an uncluttered line of vision.

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Reaching a distance to where he was comfortable taking a shot, Moe glanced low an instant before firing on goalie Chris Surran. The ball broke the goal plane, bounced once and snapped the back of the net, triggering a wild celebration on the field that left Moe imploring teammates to remove themselves from on top of him so he could breathe.

“It was actually hard to process,” Moe said. “We never had won anything big before. All we had known was the feeling of defeat, so it was a totally new feeling of being victorious.”

The victory over the top-seeded Orange was the first men’s lacrosse crown for an Ivy League school in a quarter century. Heading into that season’s NCAA tournament the Tigers, who face top-seeded Maryland on Saturday in the national semifinals, had not advanced beyond the quarterfinals.

What’s more, the iconic shot did not travel along the arc Moe intended. He had planned to shoot high, hoping to bait Surran into positioning his stick toward the ground in anticipation of a low bid given Moe was looking in that direction, a feint the all-American midfielder had developed under the tutelage of then-Princeton coach Bill Tierney.

Surran kept his stick up, but the ball got caught briefly in the mesh of Moe’s stick for what he recalled was the first time in his career, causing a descending trajectory. Surran was a fraction of a second late to react.

The goal also was redemptive, Moe revealed, since in the first overtime a defensive breakdown on his part nearly cost the Tigers when Syracuse midfielder Dom Fin, a three-time first team all-American, dodged past him for an uncontested shot. Moe was relieved when goalie Scott Bacigalupo somehow made the save.

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“I looked over my shoulder in horror as he unleashed this cannon, and I thought, ‘Oh my god,’ ” said Moe, who prided himself as a rugged defender. “I could have been the guy who was beaten for the game-winning goal. I came very close to playing that role.”

Moe ended up logging his fourth goal of the game, his 19th of the season and the 68th and last of his career, although Tierney once introduced him at a lacrosse camp by joking that Moe scored four times in the NCAA final, matching his total in all previous games at Princeton.

“It was that defining moment of what we thought could happen,” said Tierney, currently the head coach at Denver, where in 2015 he won the first national championship in school history. “It was more defining for the rest of the world because we were certainly up against the juggernaut of Syracuse.”

Moe and Tierney went on to cultivate a long-standing friendship that remains vibrant to this day after having met when both arrived at Princeton the same year. Tierney had accepted the head coaching position, the first of his career, following three years as an assistant at Johns Hopkins.

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Moe, meanwhile, was on course to attend Duke, but a meeting with his college adviser at St. Albans changed his mind. That adviser, the late Jack McCune, was a Princeton graduate.

In Moe and Tierney’s first season together in 1988 the Tigers went 2-13, and the very idea of ​​a national championship seemed a fool’s errand. But Tierney ensured his charges that if they followed his direction from him, they would eventually put themselves in position to contend for an NCAA title.

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The message was far different from what Moe encountered during a visit to Princeton while he was in high school. A Tigers team member at the time told Moe if he chose Princeton he would get to play some of the top programs in the country and receive a world-class education but stand no chance at a national championship.

Princeton, after all, had won just 12 games combined from 1984 through ’87.

“Moe stuck it and just kept running,” said ESPN lacrosse analyst Quint Kessenich, who at the time was part of the radio broadcast team. “I just remember, ‘Wow, Princeton just won a national championship. That’s hard to believe.’ Guys jumped off the bench, and I remember them taking their victory celebration around the track with the trophy. It was kind of like a new era had begun.”

Tierney has watched then play-by-play television announcer Jim Gray’s call of the indelible sequence more times than he can remember, and upon reflecting on the goal’s significance, what comes to mind first are the tales it spawned as the decades passed.

Such as Moe tossing his gear into Carnegie Lake not long after stepping off the bus when the team arrived back on campus from Philadelphia. The origin of the urban legend remains uncertain, according to Moe, who speculated perhaps one of his teammates introduced it given how he and lacrosse abruptly parted ways.

“Wasn’t true, but it’s a pretty cool myth,” Tierney said, laughing. “The fake myths tend to live on longer than the truth, do you know?”

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