In the past few weeks, it seemed as though Cornell men’s lacrosse was beginning to click. The team had won three of its last four games, including its first winning streak of the year after victories over Dartmouth and Harvard. The next obstacle would be telling, as the Red was to face a perennial juggernaut in Syracuse.
At first, it looked like Cornell might just get the upset. But in the end, it was the team just north on Route 81 that utilized a 10 goal streak to blast by the Red, 15-8.
“They’re ranked number one for a reason — they know how to win,” said Cornell head coach Matt Kerwick. “We wanted it to get to the fourth quarter where it was going to be a scrap and see if we can knock them off that one-goal win train they’ve been on, but unfortunately in the third quarter they ran away from us.”
The Orange (9-1, 3-0 ACC) entered Tuesday’s contest riding a six-game win streak and reigning as the nation’s No. 1 team, jumping over Penn St. as it dropped its first game of the year last weekend to Maryland. But Cornell (3-7, 2-2) has taken down talented Syracuse teams in the past, most recently last year when the Red shocked the then-ranked No. 11 Orange in a 10-9 overtime contest at home.
For six straight weeks leading into Tuesday’s game, the nation’s No. 1 had fallen, but under Syracuse head coach John Desko’s, the program is 49-11 as No. 1, and the Orange looked to notch win number 50 as the No. 1 team and be the first team in a month and a half to keep its place as kings of the hill.
Kerwick is pretty familiar with Desko — in addition to the extensive rivalry between the two schools, Kerwick and Desko both coached the U.S. Men’s Lacrosse team in 2006 that won silver at the FIL World Championships. Desko served as head coach and Kerwick served as one of his assistants.
For the first 11 minutes of the game, it seemed as though the Red could play spoilers. While Syracuse drew first blood to open the game, the Red came back to score three straight goals. After Syracuse and Cornell traded goals, the Red had a 4-2 lead in the 4:09 mark of the first period. All four of the goals were assisted by freshman Jeff Teat, who ranked eighth in the nation in assists coming into Tuesday’s game.
Syracuse would tack on another goal to close out the first period, but Cornell maintained a one-goal lead. Close games are a trademark for Syracuse this season, as the Orange went on a seven-game stretch of games that were decided by only a single goal, including two overtime games and a 14-13 decision to Army, the team’s only loss of the year.
“We came out with great urgency and intensity in the first quarter, exactly what we wanted to do, and unfortunately we lost that in the second quarter,” Kerwick said. “We didn’t have the intensity level that we came into the first quarter with. You have to give Syracuse a lot of credit — they keep playing, that’s what they always do.”
Lacrosse is known as a game of runs, and Syracuse went on a run to blow the game wide open. Both teams started the second period slowly, with only one goal being scored in the first 13 minutes of the period to tie the game at four. The Orange shutout Cornell in the period and scored three goals in the final two minutes of the half — including a last-second buzzer beater — to end the half with a 5-0 run and head into halftime with a 7-4 lead.
The Orange picked up right where it left off to open the second half, as the team added on five more goals before a goal by Cornell sophomore attack Colton Rupp halted the Syracuse onslaught at 10 at the 7:13 mark of the period — nearly 27 minutes without a goal by the Red. The 10-goal run by Syracuse was the longest scoring run for the team of the year.
Syracuse would add another goal in the period, making it six goals for the team in that period alone, compared to seven in the entire first half. Cornell, meanwhile, only scored one, and headed into the final period of play down 13-5.
Kerwick praised his defense’s effort, despite the Orange scoring onslaught.
“I don’t think they were scoring well, our defense was playing hard and I think they battled, [but] long possessions turned into goals,” he said. “We definitely got tired — you play two minutes of defense, you’re going to get tired at the end of it, you’re just hoping to make a play.”
Cornell opened the scoring less than 30 seconds into the final period, but it was too little, too late. The Red cut into the Syracuse lead by just one in the period, dropping the game 15-8.
While the scoreboard shows otherwise, the game was a hard-fought battle by both teams, a stat that is shown by the penalties — Cornell and Syracuse combined for 13 penalties, resulting in 12 minutes of penalty time.
“I don’t think it was chippy — it’s Cornell and Syracuse,” Kerwick said. “Are [the refs] calling it exactly as they should? Who knows. We’ll watch the film, but it’s two of the greats going at each other. You’re going to battle and scrap, and sometimes tempers can get going a bit, but I would expect nothing less from [this game].”
Cornell will look to rebound from the tough loss when it welcomes Lehigh to Schoellkopf this Saturday after the Mountain Hawks defeated Princeton Tuesday night, 15-10. Good news for the Red, Lehigh is 1-3 following a victory this year and has a 2-4 record on the road. Cornell has already lost as many games as it has last season with three games left to go in the regular season, and will look to keep itself from guaranteeing a worse record from last season with a victory on Saturday afternoon.
Action gets way at 1 p.m. from Schoellkopf.