COLLEGE PARK – By the numbers, junior Curtis Holmes hasn’t lived up to lofty expectations. The preseason first-team All-American face-off specialist was winning just 50 percent of his face offs coming into Maryland’s game against Navy Friday night.
“He’s fought through some injuries. There’s also the mental part. Here’s a guy that did very well, [but he] has been struggling,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said after the game. “I said something to him right before the game, ‘You’re going to have your best game of the year, you’re going to play well.’ I wanted instill just a little confidence in him.”
With Holmes finally healthy, he had one of his best games of the year, winning 15 of 20 face-offs in helping the #12 Terps (6-3, 1-2 ACC) bounce back from two straight losses by beating Navy (5-5, 3-2 Patriot) 13-6 on Friday night at Byrd Stadium.
Holmes has been dealing with several injuries the past few weeks, which the team declined to specify.
“We saw the doctor, got MRIs, X-Rays to actually figure out what was wrong with me which I think helped a lot because we were able to game-plan and come together and figure out a way to get me healthy as soon as possible,” Holmes said.
Sophomore goalie Niko Amato and the Terps defense, which had given up 23 goals in the last two games, got a break thanks to Holmes playing up to his ability, limiting the touches that Navy got.
Between the second and third quarters, Maryland won eleven face-offs in a row. Maryland outscored Navy 7-2 during that span including a 5-0 third quarter.
“Niko came up to me after the game and said, ‘You made my job so easy tonight.’ That’s my job. My job is to let Niko [and the defense] have a night off,” Holmes said.
Senior attack and captain Joe Cummings, who lead the offense with 3 goals — the 10th hat trick of his career — and 2 assists, said he was proud of the entire face off unit.
“Credit our wings, Jesse [Bernhardt], Landon [Carr], [Michael] Shakespeare, that’s a tough zone and we want to win that area of the field and we got a big game out of Curtis tonight going into next week.” Cummings said. “He came out and fought and really played with confidence.”
Maryland took a 6-5 lead with 12 seconds left before halftime after junior attack and captain Owen Blye scored.
Holmes won the ensuing face-off. Tillman tried to call a timeout once Holmes made it into the box with about seven seconds left. But officials didn’t stop the clock until there were only two seconds remaining and waived off a would-be goal by junior midfielder Landon Carr.
“I’m like, ‘What am I supposed to run with two seconds? I have no play that’s two seconds,” Tillman said after the game.
The Terps were also frustrated in the first half by Navy’s senior goalie RJ Wickham, who registered 11 saves before halftime.
“RJ was lights out, making saves all over the place. He really stood his ground against us,” said Cummings.
Tillman was able to settle his team down in the locker room before the second half and they responded by outscoring Navy 7-1 in the second half.
“We just asked everybody to take a deep breath at halftime. Let’s start over again and can some shots,” Tillman said.
The lone goal for Navy in the second half came courtesy of Maryland sophomore defender Michael Ehrhardt who hit the ball into his own net while trying to pick up a loose ball off a shot from Navy sophomore midfielder Pat Durkin.
The Terps ripped 52 shots on the evening compared to just 18 for Navy.
Navy’s coach, Rick Sowell, said his team didn’t help out their keeper enough. The score would have been a lot worse if it wasn’t for Wickham’s play, who stopped 18 shots on the day, a season high. Amato, for the Terps, had five saves on the night.
“He saw a lot of rubber. He certainly kept the score down as much as he could have. Unfortunately we couldn’t help him out, we couldn’t win a face-off, we couldn’t win the ground ball battle [a 34-19 edge for Maryland],” Sowell said.
Eight players scored for Maryland. After the win, there was a sense of optimism after dropping two games in a row.
“We’re not the team that we want to be yet and we’re going to get there soon,” Cummings said.
Amato went a step further, saying that his team can do even better than last year.
“National Championship. I think it’s a possibility. We’re as talented as any team out there,” he said.