Bounce-back win after a tough loss? Check. Comeback win after trailing in the fourth quarter? Check. Taking down the No. 1 program in the sport? Check. Biggest win in program history? Check.
Penn men's lacrosse’s victory over No. 1 Duke on February 24, a 10-9 thriller in which the Quakers scored the last four goals of the game, checked all the boxes.
An evenly played first quarter saw the teams exchange goals. Duke led 2-1 for much of the frame, but Penn's Adam Goldner tied the game up with 14 seconds left, the first of two late-quarter goals scored by the Quakers (2-1) that would come back to haunt Duke.
The second quarter belonged to the Blue Devils (4-1), who opened up a 6-2 lead with five minutes left to play until halftime. The game looked like it would be similar to Penn’s 13-6 defeat at No. 3 Maryland on February 21 — but this time was different.
“That is the biggest takeaway of the game for us,” coach Mike Murphy said. “Down 7-3, down 9-6 — we showed the resilience to keep fighting.”
With six seconds left in the half, Goldner created end-of-the-period magic again with a goal to bring the score to 7-4 heading into halftime. Though Duke was winning at the break, there was one huge positive for the Quakers — faceoff man Chris Santangelo had went 5 for 7 in the second period on faceoffs, and his continued success would be the x-factor in the game.
“Chris Santangelo winning faceoffs was big because we had not won the faceoff battle in our last two games,” said coach Murphy. “For us to be able to get a stop or two, score, and get the ball back is very important.”
The third quarter only saw one combined goal from both teams, which was Goldner's third one of the game, but it was obvious the Quakers looked better than they had in the first half. After being outshot 22-11 in the first half, Penn outshot Duke 8-7 in the third quarter.
“We just talked about not beating ourselves,” said senior Kevin McGeary. “In the first half we had a lot of turnovers; we were giving them extra possessions despite winning faceoffs. In the second half we managed to limit those turnovers and won a ton of faceoffs, effectively keeping the ball out of Duke’s hands.”
Still, Penn was saving the best for last. Chris Santangelo again dominated the faceoff X in the final quarter, winning 6 of 8 attempts. Penn outshot Duke 16-3, and had its lowest turnover count in any quarter with only two.
Duke did lead 9-6 with 9:21 to go, but from there on out, it was all Penn. In a span of 4:21, the Quakers scored four goals to take a 10-9 lead over the No. 1 team in the country. McGeary sparked the comeback with a goal at the 8:21 mark, before Reilly Hupfeldt narrowed the lead to one with 7:24 remaining. After a few minutes of Penn ripping shot after shot to no avail, Simon Mathias scored the game-tying goal with 3:07 to play.
The game was tied up and the crowd at Franklin Field was roaring — momentum was clearly and fully on Penn’s side. Merely seven seconds later, at the 3:00 mark, McGeary completed his hat-trick — and eventually the monumental upset — with the game-winning goal.
“It was an awesome faceoff play,” McGeary said of the final goal. “Santangelo won it right to [Connor] Keating for the fast break, he put it right in my ear, I shot it, and it went in.”
Penn managed to hold the ball for the next couple minutes, running the clock out in an effort to preserve its narrow lead. However, Duke would get a final chance — with 28 seconds left, Duke held the ball and called a timeout to set up a final play.
“If they had some magic play, they are not waiting until 28 seconds left in the game to call it, they are going to use it earlier on,” coach Murphy said of his thoughts during the final huddle. “They were working with the same people and plays they had been all game long, so we just reminded our guys of the fundamentals that worked earlier, and thankfully it worked that last possession.”
Work it did — Duke lost the ball and was unable to come up with a real shot attempt at the end.
It is a momentous occasion for Penn men's lacrosse, but it is still early February, and there are a lot of games left to be played, including a full Ivy League slate that is always a challenge. So where do Penn’s early season results leave the team?
“I don’t know — I’m wondering the same thing,” said coach Murphy. “I think it is too early [to judge].”
Penn's next game will come against Penn State, which upset last year's Quakers after the team had scored a similar upset win over No. 6 Virginia.
But in the meantime, the Red and Blue will take their time to celebrate this one. With a thrilling comeback, a rowdy home crowd, and an upset for the ages, this victory will undoubtedly be one to remember forever in program lore.