Before Saturday, the last time Penn men’s lacrosse defeated Villanova at Franklin Field was over a decade ago on Mar. 13, 2010. The Quakers' struggles continued this year, as they lost 9-8 in the second annual battle for the Farrell Cup.
The game proved to be intense, and defense-focused, and each goal scored had a huge impact on the game's momentum. In a matchup that was decided by who made the fewest mistakes, No. 16 Penn (2-3) found themselves ever-so-slightly outmatched by No. 14 Villanova (5-1).
Leading up to the game, questions surrounded how potent the Penn attacking unit would be since one of its leading scorers this season, senior attacker Dylan Gergar, was unable to play Saturday due to an injury. Coach Mike Murphy told The Daily Pennsylvanian that Gergar's injury is likely to keep him out for multiple weeks but didn't specify a diagnosis or timeline.
“He's an All-American [attacker] for us,” he said. “And one of our all-time leading scorers in the history of our program, so we had to try and make up for that loss.”
Despite this, Penn still drew the first blood with a goal from sophomore attacker Ben Smith, but the first half was largely highlighted by unforced turnovers that cost the Quakers several goal-scoring opportunities. Gergar’s presence was missed, as the offensive unit failed to find a true flow. Additionally, the sheer number of Penn's mistakes – including dropped passes, crease violations, and penalties – added up to prevent Penn from being more successful.
Villanova also didn't grant Penn any breaks. After scoring a pair of goals in the first quarter to give the Wildcats the lead, they maintained control over the game throughout the second period. Heading into halftime, Penn trailed, 5-3.
However, the Quakers wouldn’t give up without a fight, and most of that credit falls on the shoulders of its impressive defense. Coming into the matchup, the Quakers' defense had already proven itself to be a well-oiled machine. Despite losing this game, the unit held Villanova to its fewest goals all season – an impressive feat considering the Wildcats had 11 extra-man opportunities throughout the game. Of the nine goals Villanova scored, only four came from these season-high 11 man-down penalties earned by the Penn team.
Junior goalkeeper Emmet Carroll ended the day with 21 saves, which helped fuel Penn's second-half comeback. Across the third and fourth quarters, the Quakers scored five straight goals. Senior midfielder Sam Handley tied up the game while Smith scored his second of the day early in the fourth quarter to give Penn its first lead since the opening minutes.
Unfortunately for Carroll, his efforts were not enough for Penn to hold on to that lead. With under two minutes to go, a shot from Villanova's Matt Campbell bounced its way into the net to tie up the game at eight. Matt Licata then scored what proved to be the game-winning goal for Villanova during an extra-man opportunity with 23 seconds left to play.
“We have to give ourselves credit for digging ourselves out of that hole, being down at halftime while having all those penalties,” Murphy said. “But when we’re getting to 8-6, 8-7, we have to finish the game off better than we did.”
With a full week to rest and prepare, Penn is looking to rebound off a tough loss against its first Ivy League opponent, Princeton, at Franklin Field on Saturday, Mar. 17 at 7:00 p.m.
“We got a week to get ready, which we haven't had in the last few games, so I’m excited to get back to work and and see how much progress we can make,” said Murphy.