Steve Musco

Facing off against fourth-seeded Penn for the third time this season, the No. 5 Yale men’s lacrosse team finally emerged victorious against the Quakers in a 19–18 offensive slugfest that saw midfielder Jack Tigh ’19 net the game-winning goal in sudden death. 

The Bulldogs (14–3, 5–1 Ivy) arrived in East Hartford looking to punch their second consecutive ticket to championship weekend. The Quakers (12–4, 6–0) previously bested the Elis in both the regular season and Ivy tournament in a pair of one-goal defeats. On Sunday, the matchup once again proved to be back and forth battle that remained close throughout.

Goalie Jack Starr ’21 pulled out several clutch stops while faceoff specialist and Ivy Player of the Year TD Ierlan ’20 –who largely dominated all teams in the regular season except for Penn – improved on his earlier performances to invigorate the Eli offense. Neither side ever led by more than two goals, and the Quakers managed to force overtime despite trailing 18–16 with just a minute remaining in regulation. In the extra period, Tigh slipped one into the cage shortly after falling to the ground to keep Yale’s repeat championship hopes alive. 

“It was one of the best games I’ve ever seen or been a part of,” head coach Andy Shay said. “[Penn] is an incredible team, and they’re a huge rival of ours. Those guys should be proud of the year they’ve had.” 

Penn, after going undefeated in conference play, captured the Ivy League Tournament title two weeks ago in a one-goal win over Yale and also bested the Elis in triple overtime during the regular season. Both teams launched out of the gate with confidence in what became a seesaw affair throughout the afternoon. 

Ierlan hit his stride in the faceoff X against rival FOGO Kyle Gallagher, who previously limited Yale’s Tewaaraton Award finalist to well under his season average of .781 in the two sides’ earlier matchups. Ierlan’s 10 faceoff wins combined with a showcase of Yale’s offensive depth — six different Elis scored in the opening quarter — allowed the Bulldogs to pull away for a 7–5 advantage after 15 minutes of play. 

In the second quarter, impressive stops from goalkeeper Reed Junkin and a shift in momentum at the faceoff X favored Penn, whose high-powered offense picked apart the Bulldog defense and found the back of the cage six times. Yale could only muster up three goals during that stretch, including one coming on an impressive feed by rookie attacker Matt Brandau ’22 to attacker Jackson Morrill ’20, who caught the pass high and finished past Junkin’s reach. With scoring slowing down in the second quarter, the Quakers fought back to take an 11–10 lead heading into halftime.

“[Gallagher] is just solid,” Ierlan said. “He’s taken a lot of faceoffs, and you can tell he’s experienced… He’s really talented. His reaction time is phenomenal, and he’s got a great game.” 

Both Yale and Penn continued to execute on both sides of the field, but neither team could secure more than a one-goal lead. Ierlan regained his command of the X, snagging five of eight faceoffs in the third. Despite his return to dominance, the Elis could only muster up a tie as the two teams headed into the final quarter of regulation locked up at 14–14. 

An offensive eruption from attacker/midfielder Lucas Cotler ’20, who finished with four goals, headlined a solid fourth quarter for the Bulldogs. A clutch save from Starr followed by a goal from Morrill allowed Yale to edge ahead by two scores with 3:13 remaining. However, the lead rapidly evaporated in less than a minute as a late procedural penalty on head coach Andy Shay allowed the Quakers to close the deficit to 18–17 on a man-up opportunity. With 47 seconds left, Gallagher then bested Ierlan at the X which allowed Penn senior attacker Simon Mathias to send the contest into overtime off of an unassisted rocket from the right side of the field. 

“All you can say is ‘give it your all’”, Mathias said. “We just wanted to get in front of the net and get a shot on cage… I was lucky enough to get in front of the cage and score the [game-tying goal].” 

Ierlan promptly secured the overtime faceoff, giving Yale an opportunity to win the game after Gaudet found himself open in front of the cage. Junkin, who stopped numerous Eli attempts all afternoon, blocked the shot and gave Penn an opportunity to send Yale home. But a costly turnover gifted the Bulldogs another chance to put the game away. 

Coming off of a timeout, midfielder Jack Tigh ’19 dodged towards the cage from the left but lost his footing and fell. Maintaining his cradle, he stood back up, split two defenders and fired the game-winner into the net as throngs of Yale fans roared in celebration at Rentschler Field. 

“We were lucky to have the ball two times in overtime,” Tigh said. “The second time I said ‘here’s our chance, we have to capitalize right now.’ I just tried to give [the team] mental confidence and try to give myself mental confidence because it could have been the last shot.”

The Elis return to the Final Four for the second year in a row where they will take on No. 1 Penn State in the NCAA tournament semifinals on Saturday. 

Cristofer Zillo | cris.zillo@yale.edu