A game with 51 total turnovers may not have been pretty, but the aesthetics of play did not really matter to the men’s lacrosse team after it came from behind twice to eke out its third one-goal win of the season.
The No. 18 Elis (7-2, 3-1 Ivy) snuck past No. 15 Denver (6-3) with gutsy teamwork that helped Dan Brillman ’06 set up attackman Seth Goldberg ’05 for the shot he needed to beat the Pioneers 10-9 in overtime. Goldberg led the team in the second half by scoring three goals as the Bulldogs began figuring out ways to get through the intense pressure of the Pioneer defense. The Pioneers’ style of play helped them for most of the game, as they beat the Elis 35-27 in shooting and 50-28 in ground balls. But the Pioneers could not get off any shots in overtime because of the stout Eli defense, which made the difference in the end.
“[The victory] says something about our character, discipline and toughness,” Goldberg said. “We knew it would be a scrappy game and we fought through it together. It says something about the unity of the team.”
While the Bulldogs may have been mentally together as a team from the beginning, it took a while for that unity to coalesce on the field because of the Pioneers’ hustle.
When the Elis were on attack, the Pioneers did not give their opponents much space to work with by playing tight man-to-man defense, especially in the first half. The Pioneers also stick-checked well and beat the Bulldogs to most of the loose balls. On the other side of the field, Denver also used athleticism to make it hard on the Eli defense.
“They practice a mile high so their lungs are in good shape,” captain and defensive midfielder DJ Barry ’05 said. “In the beginning they looked a lot better and they were flying all around the field.”
The first half ended with the Pioneers up 4-3 due in no small part to their conditioning. The Elis were able to stay in the game by capitalizing on opportunities that face-off man Dan Kallaugher ’06 helped secure, such as the first goal of the game, when Kallaugher won the face-off and streaked to the Denver cage before dishing the ball to Brillman who finished it. But Kallaugher was not having an easy day either because of the fight that Pioneer players Geoff Snider and Scott Davidson were putting up at midfield.
“They were so far the best face-off team we have faced,” Kallaugher said. “It was really hard to win the face-offs. It wasn’t a walk in the park.”
After halftime, the Elis opened with a two-goal run from attackmen Colin Neville ’06 and Goldberg, but the Pioneers responded with two tallies of their own. The Elis were starting to possess the ball better as the Pioneers began to look a little more tired, but the Pioneers had enough energy to finish the third quarter leading 8-6. The pressure was on the Bulldogs to make the fourth quarter successful.
“They were playing at a frenetic pace,” Yale head coach Andy Shay said. “We thought they were getting tired and that we would be able to take advantage of that down the stretch. We knew we had to fight and make sure to be focused and stick with the plan — and the guys did.”
After Kallaugher won the wrestling match for the face-off to start the last quarter of play, the Elis seemed to make a statement that they were not going to give up. Kallaugher passed the ball to a streaking Barry who ran with it before dishing the ball to Tyler Casertano ’08. Casertano dodged and found an open Goldberg, who took a diving shot that was good for a goal only 25 seconds into the fourth quarter. The next Eli goal also caught Denver goalie Jeb Hollingsworth by surprise. Chris Kempner ’07 was standing still in the box facing midfield when he caught a pass and immediately turned around and rifled off a shot that Hollingsworth did not even see coming.
With these two goals, the Elis had tied the game by running their style of offense, something that they were not very successful at in the first half.
“The key to beating the defense is moving the ball and getting open looks,” Goldberg said. “They were athletic and throwing good checks, so we knew we needed our adjacent guys to be wide enough so that the guy with the ball would be able to move it. The second half we did a much better job with that.”
The Bulldogs had a chance to put the game away a minute after they knotted the score at eight. Kyle Washabaugh ’08, the 6-foot-7 attack midfielder, dodged a Pioneer long-pole and shot the ball between Hollingsworth’s legs for an unassisted goal. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the Pioneers responded in kind about three minutes later with a Greer Hanlon unassisted goal.
For the remaining eight minutes of regulation, both sides buckled down and tried to play patiently. The Elis had a few of chances at the end of the quarter but could not get off a good shot and the game went into overtime.
Kallaugher won the opening face-off and the Bulldogs played with intensity, but the Elis turned the ball over for the 31st time and the Pioneers had a possession to try to emerge victorious. Tough defensive play by Gray Eklund ’06, Ian Cadieu ’06 and Dave Levy ’07 shut the Pioneers down and gave the Bulldogs yet another chance, which they capitalized on.
“The defense made a great stop and they never let up,” Goldberg said. “[The Pioneers] ran a unique offense, but the defense reacted really well to it, especially in overtime. Then Brillman gave me a great feed and I stuck it between the goalie’s legs. It was a testament to the team’s work ethic.”
Barry said he was worried that the Elis might lose, but the team as a whole found a way to win another close one.
“Our motto all year has been ‘one,'” Barry said. “It means stick together and play as one. If you have talented parts that don’t work together, it doesn’t work. Arguably we have less talent but as a whole we play better. It was definitely a gut check for us, to stick together and come back. It gives us a lot of confidence.”