Trailing by one with just 21 seconds left to play, Harvard attackman Greg Cohen fired a shot at men’s lacrosse goalie George Carafides ’08 — wide to the left. Teammate Brian Mahler scooped up the ground ball and, 12 seconds later, launched a shot of his own — wide to the right. With just two seconds remaining, Brooks Scholl received a feed from Travis Burr and hurled one final attempt at the goal — wide to the left.
And so the Bulldogs (7-5, 2-4 Ivy) survived a six-goal comeback in the fourth quarter to beat the Crimson (4-7, 2-3), 9-8, in Yale’s final conference game of the season. Although the Cantabs made a run to try to turn the game around, they could not quite overcome the 8-2 lead that the Elis had built in the first three quarters, dropping a decision to the Bulldogs for the first time since 2003.
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“It was great to finally beat Harvard and to win it for the seniors,” defender Pat Grimm ’08 said. “People played with a lot of emotion and fought really hard. We played as a team.”
Captain Chris Kempner ’07 led the way for the Bulldogs in the opening quarter, finding the back of the net off a feed from midfielder Mike Karwoski ’09 at 3:40. James Ryan ’09, Jonathan Koenig ’08 and Ben Fuchs ’07 each added one of their own as the Bulldog defense stifled the Crimson attack, giving the Elis a 4-0 lead at the end of the frame.
The Crimson offense found its rhythm in the second period, however, as Harvard was the only team to score. Cohen and Mahler each tallied once, cutting Yale’s lead to two going into the break.
The Bulldogs came out strong in the third, scoring four unanswered goals and allowing the Cantabs just one successful clear as they outshot Harvard 9-1. In the ninth minute of the period, forward Tyler Casertano ’08 set up Brendan Gibson’s ’10 30th goal of the year before Casertano added one of his own just 20 seconds later. Casertano was involved in both of the next two goals as well, tallying again with 3:58 remaining and dishing the ball to Karwoski two minutes after that for a score. At the end of the quarter, the Bulldogs held an 8-2 lead that seemed to be insurmountable.
But Harvard was not quite finished. The Cantabs went on a 4-0 run to chip away at a six-goal deficit and put themselves in position to even the score for the first time all game. A Karwoski goal with 4:16 remaining did not stop the Crimson momentum, and after two quick tallies, the Cantabs were within one, trailing 9-8 with 1:42 left to play.
The Elis called a time out to regroup, but Harvard won the ensuing draw and took possession of the ball. Then, with 1:19 left, the referees called a penalty on Will Gano ’09 for pushing. Although the Bulldogs managed to kill the penalty, the Cantabs regained possession in the final minute and fired three shots at the cage in the last 21 seconds, giving the Elis a scare. If not for the efforts of the Bulldog defense, which prevented the Crimson from getting any truly good looks, Harvard very well might have completed the comeback and taken home a win.
“They scored a lot on transition in the fourth quarter,” head coach Andy Shay said. “We gave up some goals that we don’t feel we should have given up, but we have to give Harvard some credit — they played hard to the last whistle.”
Carafides played a major role in the effort, finishing the day with 11 saves, including four in a difficult fourth quarter. But it was the Bulldog defense that truly shined, only giving up the majority of the goals in transition situations where the Cantabs had a clear advantage.
“They couldn’t score the entire day with their settled offense, six-on-six,” Koenig said. “Our defense played unbelievably. [Most of their goals] came in unsettled situations, from turnovers, failed clear attempts, or random little things. They were able to move the ball when we had fewer defenders than they had scorers.”
Although their Ivy League schedule is now over, the Bulldogs still have one remaining test in front of them, as they face No. 8 Maryland on the road next Saturday. The outcome of the game has serious implications for the Elis’ season, as a victory would put the squad back into contention for a berth in the NCAA Tournament, a complicated process that hinges on the team’s performance against all of its opponents.
“We have a great opportunity Saturday against Maryland,” Grimm said. “If we win this game we put ourselves in contention for the playoffs, but either way we’ve had a great year. What made this year special and [the Harvard game] special was the team camaraderie that we have had. That’s really been the key to our success this season.”