With two defenders and all eyes on him, senior midfielder Ryan Matthews snuck the ball past the Orange’s goalie in overtime giving Cornell a much-needed 10-9 win over upstate rival No. 9 Syracuse.
Currently unranked, a status that is a rarity for the program, Cornell men’s lacrosse ground out the victory over the Orange on Tuesday night. In a season categorized by inexperience, youthful mistakes and overall subpar play by the standard’s of the program’s illustrious history, the victory over Syracuse could be a major step in getting this year back on track.
“We’re obviously a happy group in that locker room right now, and they should be, they worked awfully hard,” said head coach Matt Kerwick. “I’ve been saying it all year, the effort has been exemplary with this group. At times the execution hasn’t been there, we’ve had some turnovers that you can’t make at key times, we’re not finishing shots the way are capable of, and, tonight I think we battled all the way to the end.”
The game was just the second in the 103-game history between the programs that went to overtime, the other came in 2009 in the national championship, a game that Cornell would go on to lose.
“It’s always a hard fought game and it starts with respect for each other, and maybe a little bit of dislike,” Kerwick said.
After the Orange won the opening overtime face-off, the upset seemed in doubt. But when the Red forced Syracuse into a difficult shot that sailed out of bounds, Cornell took over on offense and the team went to work to try to win on its home turf for the first time in a month.
On the ensuing possession, two Cornell shots were off the mark, but Cornell regained possession each time. The third shot would be the one to make the headlines.
“I felt like I got a step on my man,” Matthews said. “I figured I should take a shot out of it and I ended up getting a good look. But again, it’s because of the way we’ve been moving the ball as a team. We’re playing really well together.”
Following the shot, Matthews was mobbed by his teammates and ended up at the bottom of a pile of dozens of Cornell lacrosse players.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Matthews said. “I think we deserve it as a team. We’ve been working like crazy, trying to put everything together. It just came together tonight.”
Syracuse seemed to be in control throughout much of the game, while the Red played more of a catch-up role. Each time Cornell tied up the game, the Orange was right there to respond and take back the lead.
The pattern held throughout much of the game until Cornell’s defense came up with a number of huge stops toward the end of the game, holding the Orange’s high-powered offense scoreless in the final 12 minutes of the game.
A major reason for this defensive lockdown was the standout performance in net from senior goalie Brennan Donville, according to Kerwick. Donville had 13 saves on the night, including four in the fourth quarter. Three of those came with the score knotted at nine.
“I couldn’t be happier for him as one of the best leaders we’ve had in this program in a long time,” Kerwick said of Donville. “He ranks right up there with the captains we’ve had over the years.”
On a night where junior face-off specialist Domenic Massimilian uncharacteristically struggled, winning just three of 18 face-offs, Donville and the rest of the defense stepped up, holding the Orange to four goals fewer than its season average.
The Orange found the back of the net early in the game, netting the contest’s first goal under three minutes after the opening whistle. The team would score twice more in the opening period, putting Cornell in a first quarter hole for the sixth time this season.
“The important thing is we just kind of kept our composure,” Donville said. “We just kept playing. It was a pretty back-and-forth game, and you know that if they scored one goal, we’d score one right back.”
Junior midfielder Andrew Keith opened the scoring for the Red with a goal eight minutes into the game. Freshman midfielder Clarke Petterson closed the Orange’s lead to one when he one-timed a pass from classmate Anthony Teixeira as time expired in the first quarter.
As has been a theme throughout the year, freshmen played critical roles in the game. Today it was Petterson who shined, tallying a hat trick on the night.
“We have some young bucks who have grown up quickly this year,” Kerwick said. “I looked out there a few times and there five or six freshmen running around the field against a pretty talented Syracuse group.”
While the Red would tie up the game early on in the second, a pair of goals from the Orange again placed Cornell in a two-goal deficit. But unlike against Harvard last Saturday when the Red allowed a two-goal lead to balloon into an insurmountable mountain, Cornell hung with the Orange each time Syracuse made a run.
Early in the second half, Petterson and sophomore midfielder Kason Tarbell scoring a goal each in period of just over two minutes, tying up the game at five. Both teams scored two more goals in the period and the fourth quarter began with the score tied up at seven.
After trading goals for the first eight minutes of the period, the defenses on both sides locked in and neither the Red or the Orange could muster a goal.
Syracuse threatened late in the game, but Donville’s save with under two minutes left allowed Cornell to have one last shot to win the game before the final buzzer.
After burning some time off the clock, senior midfielder John Edmonds tried to force it inside, and while Petterson was able to corral it, his shot was swallowed by the Orange’s defense and the game went to overtime.
With Syracuse in the rear view mirror, the team looks to Lehigh on Friday to try to string together a pair of wins, something that the Red has struggled to do well this season.
“We want to enjoy the victory,” Donville said. “Tomorrow we got to start working again. … It’s important that we enjoy this moment, but we also did make some mistakes and we just want to have a good practice tomorrow and enjoy the night.”