A historic season for the Yale men’s lacrosse team became even more memorable on Saturday, as another come-from-behind victory kept alive the best start to an Eli season since 1990. No. 1 Yale trailed Penn by five with 20 minutes remaining, but the Bulldogs rallied in the second half to win 11–10 in overtime.
On a cold and rainy day at Reese Stadium, Yale (8–0, 3–0 Ivy) played one of its ugliest first halves of its season, failing to clear the ball four times in the first quarter alone. The Elis overcame the Quakers (5–4, 2–1) by cleaning up in the second half and overtime, ultimately winning thanks to two clutch goals: a tying score from midfielder Michael Keasey ’16 with just 17 seconds remaining in regulation, and the game-winner a minute into the overtime period from attackman Ben Reeves ’18, who, despite being Yale’s lead scorer on the season, did not score a goal until overtime.
Yale escaped with a victory, its second comeback of at least five goals this season, despite never leading in the 60 minutes of regulation.
“We didn’t play the cleanest game of all time,” head coach Andy Shay said. “We have an enormous amount of respect for Penn and are glad we got the win.”
The cold and wet conditions led to a sloppy first half in which Yale committed 11 turnovers, the most of any first half this year, and Penn committed 10. Four different Elis contributed goals, while the Quakers capitalized on a 22–13 shot advantage to take a 7–4 lead after 30 minutes.
Penn attackman Nick Doktor opened the scoring in the second half and finished the day with two goals and three assists. Attackman Simon Mathis, who scored three times on the afternoon, found the back of the net with 6:33 remaining in the third to give the Quakers a 9–4 advantage, their largest of the day.
But a change was brewing for Yale. With limited time remaining and a large margin to overcome, the defense began to press out and play more aggressively.
“Urgency means everything to us,” captain and defender Michael Quinn ’16 said. “It’s something we didn’t have at all in the first half, but it needs to be a constant every week.”
The Bulldogs got their first goal back with 4:29 remaining in the third when Keasey found the back of the net to end a 23-minute scoring drought for Yale. A minute later, midfielder Tyler Warner ’18, better known for his defensive play, scored his first goal of the season in transition on a feed from Reeves to make the score 9–6.
A few more turnovers and a shot off the crossbar from attackman Jeff Cimbalista ’17 appeared to kill Yale’s momentum. But the Yale offense returned to some of the plays that led to early season success, especially the two-man game behind the net. Keasey took the ball behind the cage and used a pick from Reeves to become free and distribute the ball to midfielder Eric Scott ’17, who finished to continue the Yale run. Keasey then narrowed the deficit to one on an unassisted goal with 6:54 remaining in the game.
In the midst of an offensive rally for the Bulldogs, one of the most important plays came from their goalie. On a Penn clearing attempt, netminder Phil Huffard ’18 raced towards a long pass, fully extended in the air and brought the ball in to force a turnover.
Capitalizing on the possession Huffard regained, attackman Cimbalista scored his second goal of the game with 4:20 left in the contest to tie the game at nine.
“I read the Penn player’s eyes and knew he was panicking and out of options, so I ran across the field and tracked the ball, like a free safety would in football, and I got it back to our midfielders,” Huffard said. “I like to consider myself an active goalie outside of the net. I pride myself in my stick skills and lacrosse IQ.”
Penn midfielder Reilly Hupfeldt scored a little over a minute later to return the lead to his team, and the Quakers won the next faceoff and attempted to kill off the clock for the remainder of the game.
The Quakers were nearly successful, until a timeout with 1:09 remaining allowed the Yale defense to double-team Penn’s ball carrier and force a turnover. Long-stick midfielder Robert Mooney ’19 picked up the ground ball and gave the Bulldogs one final attempt to equalize.
A penalty by Penn defender Kevin Gayhardt caused a man advantage for the Yale offense, and although the Bulldogs entered the game scoring on only 21 percent of their man-up opportunities — 64th among 68 Division I teams — Keasey found the net from distance to tie the game with 17 seconds remaining, finishing the day with a game-high four goals.
“We’ve struggled a bit on extra-man opportunities this year, and with the game on the line we kept talking about being patient and trusting that our play would work,” Keasey said. “I saw an opportunity and was able to capitalize.”
In overtime, the Quakers won the opening faceoff, but defender Christopher Keating ’17 forced a turnover, his sixth caused turnover of the game, that returned the ball to the Yale offense with a chance to win the game.
On the final possession Reeves drove from behind, attacking the goalie’s left side and burying the ball in the net for the victory. The sophomore finished with just one goal, a season low, but a team-high three assists.
Much of Yale’s success late in the game came from cleaning up the careless turnovers that characterized the first half. The Bulldogs successfully cleared all 12 opportunities in the second half and overtime while turning the ball over just six times.
The Bulldogs have now beaten a second-straight Ivy League opponent by a score of 11–10. The first such win came against Princeton, which fell 19–8 to No. 3 Brown on Saturday.
“The win took a lot of mental toughness from our guys,” Quinn said. “You learn a lot about your team in games like that.”
Despite the victory, the Bulldogs lost the battle at the faceoff X, where they won possession on just seven of 25 attempts. Yale has struggled facing off all year, winning 46 percent of draws — a lower mark than all but one of the other Inside Lacrosse Top 20.
The poor performance from the faceoff X is particularly concerning for the Bulldogs because Penn came into the game winning just 36 percent of its attempts. Yale will have multiple games to improve in the next week, hosting Sacred Heart on Tuesday and battling Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire on Saturday.
“Midweek games pose a big challenge because there’s less time to prepare,” Quinn said. “Coming off a big game where a lot of guys went pretty hard and are tired, it’s going to be critical to focus on Monday and well-prepared for Tuesday night. That’s the only thing we’re focused on right now: Sacred Heart and nothing else.”
Tuesday’s game against the Pioneers will begin at Reese Stadium at 7 p.m.