Minutes before the start of Penn men’s lacrosse’s NCAA Tournament first round matchup with Drexel, throngs of Red and Blue fans erupted in a cheer of “We are the Quakers, the cardiac Quakers!”
The Dragons made sure that Penn never had a chance to live up to its nickname.
Drexel scored six goals in a four minute, 40 second span that spanned both halves and goalie Will Gabrielsen took care of Penn’s offense in a 16-11 Dragons win.
At first it appeared that the fourth-seeded Quakers (11-4) would run their next door neighbors out of Franklin Field, scoring two goals in the opening three minutes of the contest and outshooting Drexel in the first quarter, 17-7.
But in a sign of things to come, the Dragons (13-4) kept roaring back, halving four different Penn two-goal leads before going on their game-deciding run.
The Red and Blue thought they had all the momentum heading into halftime, as a shorthanded goal from senior defense Alex Blonsky with 1:17 to go gave them a 6-4 lead, their fifth two-goal advantage of the half.
But after Drexel sophomore attack Jules Raucci scored off a tough angle with 17 seconds to play, everything changed.
On the ensuing faceoff, junior midfield Nick Saputo overpowered Danny Feeney and charged down the field, firing a rocket past senior goalie Brian Feeney to tie the game with 12 seconds to play.
How would Saputo follow that act up? By doing it again, winning the next faceoff and scoring from almost the exact same spot to give the Dragons a 7-6 lead over the shell-shocked Quakers at the half.
“Giving the team momentum is my job,” he said. “Things were clicking today, and hopefully we can keep it rolling.”
“We just didn’t respond,” Penn coach Mike Murphy said. “Either with winning faceoffs or getting stops or scoring.”
Things didn’t get any better for the Red and Blue in their own end after the 10-minute break.
Two goals from senior attack Jared Boudreau sandwiched Raucci’s second tally of the game, Murphy with little choice but to pull Feeney from net with the Dragons ahead 10-6.
His replacement, John Lopes — who had accumulated only 58 seconds of playing time all season before Saturday — did not fare much better, giving up three goals of his own before being replaced by Feeney.
“We just weren’t sharp defensively in goal today,” Murphy said.
At the other end, Gabrielsen shut down Penn’s attack when it mattered most, racking up 22 first half saves and killing off two Penn power plays.
Offensively and defensively, the Quakers just didn’t look sharp. The team’s three leading scorers — Zack Losco, Nick Doktor and Isaac Bock — were held to a combined five goals, and the Red and Blue lost 21 of 31 faceoffs.
Though Penn must step aside now for the tourney newcomer Dragons, it can look back with pride on its 2014 campaign, which ended with an Ivy Tournament title and its first NCAA Tournament home game in 26 years.
“I’m very proud of our seniors,” Murphy said. “I just said to them in the locker room that I feel like they’ve left Penn lacrosse much better than they found it, and they should feel good about that and not try to focus on the way it ended.”