Tony McDevitt was waiting in Raleigh, N.C., to board a flight to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, when he received the phone call.

McDevitt, a graduate of Penn Charter, was heading south of the border for his senior trip. He had received his Duke diploma. He had played what he figured to be his final collegiate lacrosse game, a 12-11 loss to Johns Hopkins in the NCAA championship. He had even accepted a job with Merrill Lynch in New York City.

But then he heard the news he and his teammates had been waiting for: The NCAA had granted an extra year of eligibility to the Duke men's lacrosse players who lost their 2006 season amid a rape controversy.

That provision was the catalyst for this season's experienced Duke squad, of which McDevitt is a captain. The Blue Devils are the top seed in this weekend's NCAA Division I championships, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Virginia (14-3), seeded second, will play third-seeded Syracuse (14-2) in Saturday's first semifinal, scheduled for noon.

Duke (18-1) will play fifth-seeded Johns Hopkins (10-5) at 2:30 p.m. in the second semifinal.

Eight games into the 2006 season, Duke canceled the remainder of its schedule when three players were accused of rape. The players were later indicted, the charges subsequently dismissed.

The NCAA's swift decision May 30, 2007 - it took less than two weeks to rule in Duke's favor - granted a fifth year of eligibility to the 33 players who were not seniors in 2006. The waiver allowed the players to compete for any university, without penalty of transfer.

McDevitt, who recently completed his first of two years at Duke's Fuqua School of Business, is one of five fifth-year seniors who are playing for the Blue Devils because of the ruling.

"I returned because I wanted to go to one of the best business schools in the country," McDevitt said. "I believe the NCAA's decision was the right one."

All five of Duke's fifth-year players are accomplished. McDevitt and Nick O'Hara, both defenders, were preseason first-team all-Americans; midfielder Michael Ward was a preseason second-team all-American; goalie Dan Loftus was a preseason third-team all-American; and attackman Matt Danowski, son of coach John Danowski, was the 2007 recipient of the Tewaaraton Trophy, given to the nation's best player.

Peter Lamade, who was one year removed from receiving his Duke degree, will also be in Foxborough, playing for Virginia as a fifth-year senior.

When the media firestorm caused by the rape accusation hit the program in 2006, Duke lost top-notch recruit Ken Clausen, a graduate of the Hill School in Pottstown. All Duke signees were released from their commitments, and Clausen enrolled at Virginia.

Clausen was one of four blue-chip recruits who didn't attend Duke.

"I can't blame Ken," McDevitt said. "It was a tough time. He wasn't involved in the program at all. For him to come into that situation when he wasn't involved in it beforehand would have been tough."

Will a national title be more special because of the turmoil the Duke team has endured?

"It's a tough thing to comment about right now because we don't want to look ahead," McDevitt said. "If we're lucky enough to walk out of there as the No. 1 team, that alone would be enough. Then add everything that has happened in the past and, well ..."

Contact staff writer Kate Fagan

at 215-854-3844 or kfagan@phillynews.com.