After last week’s narrow escape against No. 19 Ohio State, then-No.5 Cornell met then-No.2 Penn State in North Carolina for the annual The Crown Lacrosse Classic. At last year’s tournament, the Nittany Lions comfortably handled the Red 19-13. This year, the game saw both teams go on dominant offensive runs which made way for a nail-biting final quarter.
In the dying seconds, two clutch goals by Cornell attackmen sealed a hard-fought 18-17 win. On Monday, the Red moved up three spots to No. 2 in the Inside Lacrosse NCAA Rankings. Now undefeated with a 5-0 battle-tested record, the team is outranked only by upstate rival Syracuse — which is also 5-0.
To start against Penn State, Cornell found itself on the backfoot early as the Nittany Lions scored the game’s first two goals. Penn State’s two Tewaaraton Award watchlist players — Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe — picked up an assist each on the plays. Ament would finish with five assists, while O’Keefe tallied three goals.
Amidst a slow start, the Red needed its faceoff unit to marshal a response against the Lions’ offensive prowess.
The squad had extreme struggles last game, but this time out freshman faceoff specialist Angelo Petrakis was ready for the battle at the faceoff X. Petrakis won seven of the next nine draws after the Red went down by two goals in the first quarter — he later finished 18 for 29.
“The extra possessions really helped us jump out and gain an early lead on a great Penn State team,” Petrakis said.
Possession was the fuel that the well-oiled Cornell offense needed to get going. In a 10-goal first-half frenzy, the attack circulated the ball crisply — allowing for nine different goal scorers. A key cornerstone in this season’s offense so far, freshman attackman Mikey Long slotted in a goal during the uninterrupted run, and would later add four assists.
The last goal of the run was a product of the ingenuity of Cornell’s sophomore attackmen, as Billy Coyle initiated the move and John Lombardi finished it. Off a crisp pass from Coyle, junior midfielder Matt Licciardi fed Lombardi, who cocked back to unleash a shot that rippled the net, putting Cornell up 10-2.
“Our offense was getting the looks that we wanted and dictated the game in the first half,”Lombardi said.
“If we take what we want, we really don’t believe anyone can guard us,” Coyle added.
Penn State needed halftime to regroup. At the start of the third quarter, the Nittany Lions found themselves down 13-5 but then went on an uninterrupted seven-goal run to claw back the deficit to a single goal heading into the final period.
In a desperate attempt to fend off the Nittany Lions, Cornell’s offense recuperated. Coyle scored back-to-back goals with just under 10 minutes left to play in the fourth. In putting the Red up by two, Coyle put some much-needed separation between the sides and marked his hat trick on the day.
“Late in the game, Penn State had all of the momentum coming back from down very deep,” Coyle said. “Our team never stopped believing and fought until the very last whistle.”
Despite Cornell’s firepower, Penn State would not be denied as it fought fire with fire — dramatically edging itself into a 17-16 lead. Down by one goal with time winding down, Cornell entrusted the fate of the game with its go-to offensive weapon.
The Red quickly located senior attackman Jeff Teat, who was guarded closely in a mismatch with a short stick defender. After a series of elusive fakes, Teat freed himself from tight coverage to squeeze in the game-tying goal with 18 seconds left in the game. The senior finished the game with three goals and three assists.
The clocked flashed as the two teams met once again for a showdown at the center of the field. On the Petrakis draw, the ball rolled back into the Cornell defensive side. In a frantic scramble, junior defender Dom Doria scooped up the loose ball and heaved it upfield.
The hail mary pass found an unlikely recipient as, rather than jogging off the field after a traditional draw, the faceoff man stayed on the field. The unusual tactic crucially allowed Petrakis to be in the right place at the right time, as he collected the clear and charged to the Penn State goal.
In clutch fashion, the freshman drilled a shot low on the Lions goalie to give the Red the lead with eight seconds left. When the final whistle blew, Cornell had secured an 18-17 victory.
“My teammates trusted me and I’m happy I pulled through for them,” Petrakis said. “I couldn’t be happier to avenge our loss from last year.”
Petrakis was rewarded for his efforts with Ivy League Rookie of the Week.
After an emphatic win against a proven opponent, Cornell next looks to preserve its perfect record when it hosts Ivy League rival No. 5 Yale in its Schoellkopf Field home opener Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We showed a lot of toughness. When games get difficult, we’ll just keep fighting and believing in our foundations,” Petrakis said. “It’s just about trusting one another.”