The incomparable Mike Tyson once remarked, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”
This poignant description of an athlete’s necessity to think in the moment and act instinctively in the face of pressure aptly describes what happened to the Penn men’s lacrosse team in the last period of its 16-11 loss to No. 4 Cornell on Saturday at Franklin Field.
The Quakers (1-5, 0-2 Ivy) spent the first three quarters of the contest executing their game plan exceptionally well, only to be left staggered by an eight-goal haymaker of a fourth quarter from the heavyweight Big Red (6-1, 2-0).
“Defensively, I just think we kind of broke down, kind of lost our communication,” Penn sophomore goalkeeper Brian Feeney said. “Once they got a goal [in the fourth] … it just seemed like everybody was intimidated.”
The Red and Blue looked anything but intimidated to begin the game, as senior midfield Anthony Adler recorded a first quarter hat trick to provide Penn a 5-2 lead after 15 minutes of play.
“Credit to coach [Mike] Murphy and his staff and that team,” Cornell coach Ben DeLuca said. “Especially in the first half, they came out and played very well. And it showed on the scoreboard.”
In fact, the Quakers looked dominant in the first half. They appeared comfortable with the steep stakes of the game and confident in their ability to compete with a national powerhouse.
Senior midfield Dan Savage and sophomore midfield Drew Belinsky each netted goals to start the second quarter, and with a 7-2 lead, Penn looked as if it might run away with the game.
But Cornell’s offense surged to end the second, and the teams headed into the locker room with the Quakers leading, 8-6.
A tense third quarter saw little change in the lead as the squads traded goals and Penn was able to increase its lead to three, entering the final period with an 11-8 advantage.
And then the Quakers got punched in the face. Hard.
The Big Red netted three goals in just over four minutes, and what had looked like a potential hard-fought Penn win was now a tie game with the momentum squarely on Cornell’s side.
“I don’t know, I’m not inside the guys’ heads, but it seemed like they got a little nervous when Cornell made a run,” Murphy said. “I don’t think it was fatigue, I think it was more mental than it was anything else.”
Any nerves that came with the Big Red’s run could only have been multiplied as the visitors continued to pour it on.
Cornell scored four more unanswered goals to take a 15-11 lead before Murphy and his staff decided to pull Feeney from goal in their “Red Dog” defense.
Big Red freshman attack Matt Donovan then scored an empty-net goal to complete the final score, but the game was effectively over already by that point.
Though they were knocked to the mat, the Quakers’ season is far from over.
“It’s not like we need to have drastic, overnight changes,” Murphy said.