The Duke Blue Devils and Syracuse Orange will meet Monday at 1 p.m. to decide the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship at Lincoln Financial Field.
The matchup comes after a gritty Saturday of college lacrosse that pushed both teams to the brink of elimination.
In the first semifinal game, Duke defeated Cornell, 16-14 while Syracuse followed with a 9-8 comeback victory over Denver.
Duke stays alive
Cornell came out firing to start the first game, unloading 15 shots, and quickly taking a 3-1 lead.
But that lead should have been bigger. On two man-up occasions, Cornell failed to come away with a goal to increase its lead. Duke’s goalkeeper, Kyle Turri, deserved some of the credit for that.
“Obviously, you’re going to talk about faceoffs and the advantage that they garnered there,” Cornell coach Ben DeLuca said. “But I think the goalie really stood on his head and kept us off the board in some critical situations.”
The 6-foot-3 sophomore saved four of his career-high 16 shots in the first quarter, keeping the game in reach and allowing Duke to later explode offensively.
Change in net
At the start of the second half, the Denver Pioneers did what they have done all season long: swapped their goalkeepers.
This time it came after goalkeeper Ryan LaPlante played a brilliant first half, saving 13 shots and allowing just two goals.
But the performance wasn’t going to change Denver’s philosophy.
“It wasn’t until I was heading out on the field at halftime that I realized that Ryan had as many saves as he did,” Denver head coach Bill Tierney said.
His replacement, Jamie Faus, didn’t fair as well. Faus allowed seven goals.
After the game, Tierney said he doesn’t think anyone should blame Faus for the loss, as he credited Syracuse for a tremendous second half.
Syracuse head coach John Desko supported Tierney's decision.
"Sometimes to leave your goalie in after the first half when they've been switching all year long, all of a sudden it changes their mindset, too," Desko said. "So I think it's something they've done, and I thought [Faus] came in the second half and he made some big saves, too."
Both games on Saturday featured two long scoring droughts.
In the first semifinal game between Duke and Cornell, it was Cornell that couldn’t find the net.
Between the second and third quarters, the Big Red went scoreless for 15:07, and in that stretch, the Blue Devils capitalized with a 9-0 run.
By the time Cornell scored again, off the stick of Rob Pannell, the Red trailed, 14-7.
The Orange went slightly longer without a goal in the second game.
In a defensive battle, Syracuse found itself without a goal for 15:42. Fortunately for the Orange, the drought wasn’t as lethal Cornell's, as Denver scored just twice in the span.
The comeback that wasn’t
After its drought, Cornell faced a seven-goal deficit, but the team rallied to go on a 6-0 run of its own, cutting the deficit to 14-12.
With the Blue Devils on their heals, Cornell appeared poised to complete an epic comeback. That hope shattered when Cornell’s Tom Freshour was called for a holding penalty.
Though Duke did not score while the team was on the man-up, it gave them possession and an opportunity to fire some shots while killing the clock.
Finally, one went in for the Blue Devils, as they increased their lead, 15-12.
It proved fatal, as Cornell eventually scored two goals in the final two minutes but couldn’t find the equalizer.
The comeback that was
Early in the third quarter, Syracuse trailed, 6-2.
Syracuse couldn’t muster any goals and a struggling Dominic Lamolinara in goal was hampering any thoughts of a comeback.
Things suddenly changed and the Orange found themselves slowly climbing back into it. And then came the equalizer -- struck off the stick of Luke Cometti to knot it up at eight with 59 seconds to go.
Thirty-nine seconds later, Derek Maltz scored for the Orange off a rebound from Faus to give Syracuse the lead with 20 seconds remaining.
"The ball trickled off the goalie's chest and I was basically just in the right spot at the right time," Maltz said. "I'm just thankful that the ball went in the back of the net and we're moving on to Monday."
Syracuse hung on despite one last chance by Denver in the final seconds.
It was Syracuse's 10th one-goal game this season.
"We don't really enjoy these one-goal games," Syracuse's senior midfielder JoJo Marasco said with a laugh.
Marasco finished the day with five points, scoring two goals.
Pannell’s swan song
Cornell’s Rob Pannell finished his storied collegiate career with seven points and five goals on 20 shots to become the all-time NCAA points leader in Division I men's lacrosse.
After the game, Pannell was understandably unfazed by the record.
“The record is what it is,” Panell said. “I’d give up everything I’ve achieved individually to get a chance to play on Monday.”
The agony of defeat
“They’ll wake up tomorrow morning and they’ll still be disappointed, but they’ll want to know what’s for breakfast and they’ll move on,” Denver coach Bill Tierney said of his team. “And this thing we do, if it was always about if it wasn’t worth it, if you weren’t the champion, then nobody should do it. There are so many reasons to do this thing …”
Failure to draw
For the first time since 2002, the semifinal session failed to draw 30,000 or more fans as Saturday’s attendance drew 28,444.
Cornell dominated the 28,444 fans in attendance while the Syracuse faithful turned in a good showing as well.