The Cornell men’s lacrosse team was looking for a breakthrough. During the tough five-game stretch of losses to open the season, it seemed as though the Red team got closer and closer to getting over the hump and finally getting a victory, highlighted by a narrow OT loss to then-No. 13 UVA at the time.
A blowout loss to Yale this past Saturday made it look like the team took a step back, but the Red rebounded in a big way Tuesday to finally get in the win column, 15-6, over in-state rival Colgate.
For Cornell (1-5, 0-1 Ivy) — a team that only played one game at Schoellkopf in the past five weeks — opening the three-game home stand with a victory over the Raiders (3-5, 1-2) brings some much-needed momentum to the young group.
“We’re obviously pleased to get the victory tonight,” said head coach Matt Kerwick. “This group has worked very hard and it hasn’t paid off on game day yet [and] to not get a win before [today] — it’s been tough.”
Cornell could have made history Tuesday. Had the team lost, it would have been the first 0-6 start since 1946. At the game’s inception, it looked like the 71-year streak might be on the fritz.
On an early Colgate possession, midfielder Jackson Lanning passed the ball back to his goalie Brandon Burke. His Cornell counterpart Christian Knight was out of the goal as Burke was 55 yards away from the Red goal. Nonetheless, the Colgate netminder ripped the ball and hit the net point-blank for his first and only career goal just over eight minutes into the game.
What is a pretty demoralizing occurrence is something Knight has experienced before. Two years ago, in the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament, Knight fell victim to another goalie goal when Albany’s Blaze Riorden ran the better part of the field and blasted one by in what has become a viral clip in the lacrosse world.
Here’s a look at Burke’s goal to put the Raiders on the board first: pic.twitter.com/NORTiiQrGg
— Cornell Sun Sports (@DailySunSports) March 21, 2017
The Cornell goalie knows he cannot let it get the better of him, though.
“It’s a 10-man ride, I’m out of the goal, it’s expected that they might shoot at the goal,” Knight said. “I just have to think that I can’t really do anything about this, and the mindset of a goalie is to move past a goal and put it behind you anyways.”
And just 1:15 later, Cornell got into a hole when Raider sophomore Sam Cleveland added a goal of his own to give Colgate an early 2-0 lead.
The young Cornell team did not panic, and came back from Colgate’s two goals looking more relaxed and poised. Two goals within one minute by midfielders in senior Andrew Keith and sophomore Clarke Petterson knotted the game at two-all just over the halfway point of the first quarter.
“We still had a great deal of energy, and they stuck with that,” Kerwick said. “That carried us through the game — I thought the hustle plays we were making really decided the game today.”
With a slow offensive quarter for both teams in the books, Cornell came out of the gates firing in the second quarter as freshman standout Jeff Teat scored two goals quickly to give the Red a 4-2 lead. Just 10 seconds after Teat’s second, sophomore Colton Rupp gave the Red its fifth straight goal for a 5-2 advantage.
After some back and forth, Cornell maintained its two-goal lead and headed into halftime with a 7-5 scoreline. This was only the second time all season that Cornell walked into the locker room with a lead — the only other time was against UVA, a heartbreaker Cornell dropped in overtime.
The second half came, and Cornell started out on a tear. Seconds after a big hit in front of the Colgate net forced its goalie to the sideline, sophomore midfielder Jake McCulloch took advantage of a fresh face in goal and scored his second of the game to put the Red up 8-5.
Cornell shut out Colgate in the third quarter, and scored four more goals to head into the final frame with a 12-5 lead. The dominance continued on into the fourth quarter.
Goals by freshman Connor Fletcher and Rupp put the Red up 14-5, making it eight-straight goals for Cornell. Colgate finally came up with a goal to put the streak to an end and cut the lead to 14-6 with 10:27 left in the game.
It was the first goal for Colgate since the 5:14 mark in the second period — a nearly 25 minute goalless stretch for the Raiders. The Red tacked on another goal at the end, securing the 15-6 victory.
“We have great athletes on the defense — we were forcing [Colgate] to take shots from tough angles, and we knew that was our game plan,” Knight said. “We executed that and held them to six goals, it was awesome.”
On the field, Cornell was the far more dominant team. One category that the Red was outdone in was faceoffs — — Colgate won 19 of the 25 faceoffs — a component that the team has been weak in all year.
Kerwick wasn’t discouraged by the numbers on the stat sheet, however, calling them in this particular instance “misleading.”
“It’s an interesting stat sometimes — they came up with a few that we ended up sticking with and maybe ended up checking away from them and getting possession back,” he said. “Technically we lost the faceoff, but we were able to scrap and create offense from a few of those.
Kerwick added, however, that it’s an area the team “certainly has to improve upon” moving forward.
The game was Knight’s seventh straight with double-digit saves, the first time all season that Cornell held the opposing team to single-digit goals and the second time it scored in the double-digits to preview just how dominant this team can be when things come together.
“Over the course of the season we’ve shown flashes of how we want to play offensively, and today was a game that everything came together for us,” Teat said. “We were dictating most of it, we were firing from all cylinders and getting production from everybody, so it was a good day to finally see us break through.”
Players were hooting and hollering to loud music after a well-deserved victory, but the team does not have long to ride the joy of its first victory. Cornell will get back to Ivy League play as Penn (3-3, 0-1) comes into town on Saturday. Both teams will be looking for its first Ivy League victory.
“Penn’s a very good team, they’ve been playing very well up until last weekend [when it lost to Princeton], so we’re going to have to clean a few areas up [and] win some more faceoffs,” Kerwick said. “If we continue to [do what we did tonight], we should be in good shape.”
On paper, both teams match up very similarly offensively — Cornell averages 10.79 goals a game, and Penn 10.83. However, Penn has a slight defensive advantage averaging 11.33 goals surrendered a game, compared to Cornell’s 15.83.
Both teams also struggle with faceoffs, as Cornell only has only won .354 of its faceoffs, and Penn .418. Hopefully for the Red, however, coming off its first win and staying put in Schoellkopf, the stats will not carry over into Saturday’s matchup.
“The biggest thing is that we have to be that type of team that we saw today — we have to be a team that mucks it up and scraps it up, and it might not be the prettiest of lacrosse, but it’s got to be an intensity level we saw today,” Kerwick said. “That’s the only way we’re a good team.”
Action gets underway from Schoellkopf at 1 p.m. Saturday.