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Senior attacker Cam Rubin evades a Delaware defender on Feb. 24.

Credit: Carly Zhao

Is there a better way to celebrate spring break than beating the number one team in the nation?

On Friday, March 1, No. 17 Penn (3-1) took down No. 1 Duke (4-1) in its second-ranked matchup of the year. Penn entered Durham, N.C. as the underdogs but pulled off the biggest upset in program history since 2018.

The win marks yet another one for coach Mike Murphy over his alma mater. Murphy played for the Blue Devils for three years during the 1988-91 seasons, captaining the team in his last season.

The first quarter opened up with proof that this would be a test of two offensive juggernauts. Duke got its name on the board first as it sought to defend its home turf. But after that, the flood gates started to open for both sides as Penn joined the scoring party. The two teams traded goals back and forth, with Penn highlighting its own offensive parity. By the end of the first quarter, the score was 4-3 in Penn's favor and four different players had scored.

Senior goalie Emmet Carroll and reigning Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week defended the cage well against one of the most daunting teams in the country. Entering the game, the Blue Devils averaged nearly 21 goals a game. They charged toward the Quakers’ cage with confidence, firing off shot after shot, but Carroll had nine saves in the first half alone to keep the Quakers on top.

But it was a goal by senior midfielder Gabe Furey in the second quarter that indicated something special brewing in Durham. 

Furey stood unfazed by the tight defense by Duke’s defensive midfielder Aidan Maguire as he cut from the wing and scored right at the top of the key from a distance. Fired up, Furey roared and celebrated — and, most importantly, chirped at the Duke defenders who couldn’t stop him.

Furey was called for unsportsmanlike conduct, but the moment was undeniable: Penn was up by two goals on the top team in the nation going into the half and had all the momentum hurdling toward a historic upset.

Everything was truly going Penn’s way as the team entered the second half. The Quakers were perfect on clears with a 17-17 finish on the night. Meanwhile, Duke kept getting disrupted on its own clears, going 16-22. And while Penn had more turnovers (16 for Penn, 14 for Duke), the disruptions on clears kept the Blue Devils from getting anything consistent on offense for them.

Immediately as the two teams entered the third quarter, Duke was called for a tripping foul. While Penn did not score in the designated man-up period, a well-placed goal off the bounce by junior attacker Tynan Walsh put them up 8-5. The scoring clinic continued, as Penn went on an absolute tear to score three more goals in the quarter and put them up 11-7 to end the third quarter. Prior to this run, Duke had never trailed by more than two.

A lot of credit also goes to the Penn defense, who kept a usually high scoring Duke offense from getting anything going. They won nearly every battle for the ground balls, largely due to senior defenders Brendan Lavelle and Chris Arceri. And, as a unit, they held Duke attacker Brennan O’Neill to zero goals and assists until partway through the third quarter. O'Neill came into the game averaging seven points per game.

But O’Neill and the Blue Devils earned their No. 1 ranking for a reason. Down by four, they rallied to fire off five goals compared to the Quakers’ two, including a huge goal from midfielder Aidan Daneza, whose fourth goal of the rainy evening trimmed the Quakers' advantage to just one goal.

A comeback was in sight, leading to the Blue Devils to pull their goalie and create an empty net opportunity. Senior midfielder James Shipley would not let it go to waste. With two defenders on him, Shipley fired in the game-sealing goal that confirmed the upset, sending the Penn sideline into a frenzy.

The rain poured down on the Quakers during a dark, stormy Durham night. While it was not Cabo or Puerto Rico, it was the perfect way to start spring break — and to announce to the world that Penn men's lacrosse is a dangerous team.

The team continued its spring break trip with a matchup against No. 19 UNC on March 3.