EAST HARTFORD, CONN. — The old sports adage about how difficult it is to beat a team three times certainly rung true at Pratt & Whitney Stadium.
In the quarterfinals of the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament, No. 4 Penn men’s lacrosse faced off with rival and No. 5 Yale for the third time, after beating the Bulldogs by a single goal in both of the previous matchups.
The series’ third installment played out much the same as the prior meetings, remaining tight throughout, but this time, the Bulldogs (14-3, 5-1 Ivy) got the edge, defeating the Quakers (12-4, 6-0) in an instant overtime classic, 19-18.
With the loss, the best season in recent Penn lacrosse memory comes to an end, but the Quakers did not go quietly.
The entire game played out very much like a heavyweight battle between two evenly matched teams, as the two Ivy League powerhouses traded punches throughout.
Neither side was able to create separation beyond two goals, as both offenses threatened to score each time they had possession.
For Penn, that offensive onslaught was, fittingly, led by the team’s two senior captains, Tyler Dunn and Simon Mathias.
Dunn, as has been the case throughout the entirety of his career, was all over the field. His one-man clears, defensive stands, and contested ground balls somehow overshadowed his three goals, each of which were crucial in a game of this magnitude and competitiveness.
Mathias also played his last game true to the form he has demonstrated over the course of his four-year career. The senior standout scored three goals and added two assists while matched up with Yale’s top defenseman, sophomore Chris Fake.
However, as has always been the case with Mathias, his stats don’t do justice to his effect on the game. Mathias didn’t simply register five points. Instead, two of those points came at the game’s most crucial stage when the Quakers had their backs against the proverbial wall.
Down by two with 47 seconds remaining, Mathias assisted Dunn at the doorstep to give Penn life. Then, with only five seconds on the clock, the senior attackman dodged to his strong left hand while falling down and shot the ball past Yale goalie Jack Starr to send the game to overtime.
In overtime, the Bulldogs proved victorious.
After losing the opening face-off, the Penn defense stood strong, winning the ball back after senior goalie Reed Junkin sprawled out to stop Yale attackman Matt Gaudet on the doorstep.
However, possession would soon go back to Yale, as Penn was called for a too-many-men violation almost immediately after clearing the ball.
This time, the Bulldogs made no mistake, and midfielder Jack Tigh split a double team to shoot one past Junkin and send Yale to the semifinals.
Despite the loss, the game was littered with impressive Penn performances beyond Dunn and Mathias.
Fellow senior Junkin tallied 14 saves, many of which came from point-break range, and underclassmen Mitch Bartolo and Sean Lulley each added three goals and an assist.
At the face-off “X,” a game within the game developed, and proved to be just as exciting as the overall contest.
Yale first-team All-American TD Ierlan and Penn third-teamer Kyle Gallagher, the only opponent who has truly challenged Ierlan’s dominance this year, battled all game long.
Ierlan, a Tewaaraton Award finalist, impressed early, winning 10-of-13 draws in the first quarter, but Gallagher responded, winning 16 of the next 28. Not only that, but he also tacked on a goal in the second quarter.
As Penn head coach Mike Murphy said, Gallagher’s play was crucial to Penn taking a lead into halftime after Yale opened up strong.
“They might be the two best face-off kids in the country, and they just went at it,” Murphy said. “[Ierlan] hit him and knocked him off his feet in the first quarter, and Kyle came back and knocked [Ierlan] off of his feet. … Kyle has been a huge part of our success this year.”
While Gallagher, a junior, will be back next year, the seniors will not, and, according to Murphy, they deserve all the credit for this season’s success.
Not only were the senior stars crucial to the team for their on-field contributions, but so too were the unheralded members of the ten-person class. As Murphy said, this class was the “mortar” that kept the foundation together.
“I’ve never seen this, but all ten guys, one through ten, really cared and pushed us to where we wanted to go,” Murphy said.
One of those seniors, Mathias, recognized his role and his responsibility as a senior leader, and, although he said that the Quakers did not quite reach the heights for which they were hoping, he can take solace in the simple but important fact that this senior class made an impact that manifested itself on the field while extending far beyond it as well.
“I just hope that we left Penn men’s lacrosse better than we found it, and I think that we have.”
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