From Lilli Janney, Yale Sports Publicity:
The unseeded Yale Bulldogs beat the eighth seed Penn State Nittany Lions, 10-7, to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time in 21 years. Trailing 5-1 at halftime, the Elis became the first team in NCAA history to come back after having only scored one goal in the first half. Defensively, they held the Lions to a mere two goals in the second half, while offensively they exploded thanks to three goals by Colin Flaherty, two by Conrad Oberbeck, and one each for Brandon Mangan, Ryan McCarthy, Kirby Zdrill, and JW McGovern.
The first half was a defensive battle. Penn State’s Danny Henneghan won all seven face-offs, making it difficult for the Bulldogs to possess the ball, and when they did, Penn State’s goalie, Austin Kaut, who is one of the best in the nation, made it difficult for them to produce.
“As good as we thought their goalie was, he was even better in the moment,” said Ryan & Forst Yale head coach Andy Shay. “We had a couple of shots on man-up opportunities that he basically robbed us. He was phenomenal. They are a great team – very well coached. They’re the most organized team we’re going to play all year.”
Still, the Bulldogs had the first tally less than four minutes into the game, coming on an unassisted goal by Harry Kucharczyk.
“Just the way they were riding us, I saw there were a lot of opportunities for four-on-fours and five-on-fives. That first one, the defenseman made contact with me about 10 yards away from the goal and I just chucked one at the cage,” Kucharczyk said. “The goalie was baiting me to shoot near pipe, so I put it there and he didn’t get there in time. I saw a lot of other opportunities later on in the game where there would be an offensive middie guarding me in transition and I thought I could take him to the goal. All around it was a great effort riding and clearing, which led to a lot of transition goals which really helped us.”
Penn State was not able to respond for the next eight minutes, but then scored two goals in less than 30 seconds late in the first quarter.
Starting the second quarter with an extra-man opportunity, the Nittany Lions scored eight seconds in to go up 3-1. Their next two goals came in the next four minutes, giving them their 5-1 lead with about 10 minutes left in the half. The Bulldog defense would hold PSU scoreless for the next 19 minutes.
Coming into the second half, the Bulldogs knew they needed to respond, and they did.
“We felt like we weren’t playing the way we normally play. I challenged guys individually. I challenged Dylan and Colin in front of the team and a couple other guys and said we need better individual performances. And they responded,” Shay said. “They never take it personally. They react and respond, and what you saw was the second half.”
Considering Yale has trailed several times this year, Shay knew it was not over.
“We’ve been doing this all year,” he said. “We’ve been down almost every game. I knew we would continue to grind and find a way.”
“We started dodging a little bit.” He explained. “We went back and forth between inverting the ball and a little bit of wing dodge. We actually suspended our substitution and let five guys on offense as they tried to take a guy off, we left a guy on the field, so it spread them out a little bit and allowed us to get some really great shots.”
Flaherty added, “I wasn’t that nervous because as we said, we’ve been down a bunch before. Offensively, I can speak for myself, I was playing very timid. I was placing the ball, shooting it slow. But once we were down and came out in the third quarter and the only way we were going to come back into it was to let it fly. The goal was to shoot it as hard as we could and just let the rest take care of itself. We came out fast.”
The game was different from the first face-off of the second half: Dylan Levings won his first face-off of the game on a Penn State violation. Two minutes later, on an offensive EMO, freshman McGovern scored on an assist from Shane Thornton to cut the Lions lead to 5-2.
“We were man-up at the start of the second half and we got a little hectic,” McGovern said. “Mangan got a nice ground ball and then fed it to Thornton in the middle, who made a great play to see me. I went low to low and was lucky enough to score.”
A couple minutes later, Oberbeck ran the ball from behind the net, up the right wing, turned and shot top left corner to make it a two-goal game at 5-3.
Oberbeck believes these first two goals of the second half really pumped up the team.
“I think that got us going,” he said. “Some people use the expression, `breaking the flood gates,’ but that’s what we needed. We hadn’t scored since the first goal of the game, so we needed to get the momentum back on our side.”
The most beautiful play of the game came from an amazing defensive effort by junior Jimmy Craft. He dove to prevent a Penn State clear and was able to pass it off to Mangan to create an offensive opportunity. While no goal was scored off the play, it epitomized the unselfish Bulldog work ethic.
“We were running a fives offense, so I was kind of hanging out. The goalie made a good save and tried to make an outlet pass. He threw it to the guy who tried to bounce it to him and I tried to make a play on the ball, so I dove. I got lucky to catch it and managed to keep it in my stick. Mangan made a great play coming up and helping me out, so if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have been able to pass it off to him,” Craft said.
Penn State scored the next goal with 5:36 left in the third, bringing the score to 6-3. The Nittany Lions, though, would not score again until there was only one minute remaining in the game. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs went on a nine-goal run.
Less than a minute later, Oberbeck passed from behind the net to Flaherty on the top right, who quickly shot it top left corner. Another minute later, Flaherty shot it from the top left to hit the bottom right corner to cut the Lions’ lead to one at 6-5 heading into the fourth quarter.
McCarthy’s goal came next two minutes into the fourth when he ran it up from the low left wing, turned and shot to score, tying the game at 6.
Four minutes later, senior captain Michael McCormack picked up a ground ball in the defensive zone, ran it downfield before passing to Zdrill who was posting on the crease. Catching the pass, Zdrill turned and shot high to score.
“We had a great defensive play that ended in a turnover. McCormack was bringing it down the field, and we’ve done it before in practice where he feeds me right on the crease like that, so my teammates expected it, but I don’t think Penn State was expecting it. Luckily, I got it and was able to put it away,” said Zdrill.
Less than a minute later, Mangan scored, giving the Elis their first two-goal lead.
“The ball got rotated around. I ended up at the point where I’m usually not located but they’d be pushing me to my offhand so I took them to my left. I shot it opposite stick and it happened to go in. It put us up two, which pumped up the guys.”
And less than a minute after that, McCormack picked up another ground ball, this one off a bad clear by Penn State, and passed it up to Zdrill. He quickly passed it off to Oberbeck, who, feet from the goal, faked high and shot low to make it 9-6 with seven minutes left in the game.
Five minutes later, the last Eli tally came when Flaherty beat a double to score on an empty net, making it 10-6.
“Towards the end of the game, I was going on attack to essentially get the ball because we knew they were going to double team me. The coaches trust me when they throw the double team out to either split it or get away. We brought the ball down and they called a trip on them, so it was a dead ball. I immediately picked it up, and they threw the double on me. I started sprinting one way to get one of the defenders to reach out towards the sideline, and then I cut underneath. The play got messy and then I was able to keep the ball and score on the empty net and ice the game for us,” said Flaherty.
Thirty seconds later, the Lions scored, to make it 10-7, but it was too late. While they may have dominated the first half, outshooting Yale 21 to 11 and winning 20 groundballs to Yale’s 8, the Elis owned the second half. They Bulldogs finished with 34 shots to Penn State’s 36, won 33 to their 36 ground balls, and only had 16 turnovers to their 19. Levings finished 7 of 20, with many critical wins coming in the second half. Sophomore goalie Eric Natale finished the day with 10 saves.
“We were out-groundballed 20 to 10 in the first half, and we didn’t want to leave the game like that. We had 25 groundballs in the second half. We challenged the guys, and they came through,” Shay said.
Defensively, Yale played strong all game, McCormack said.
“We came out playing pretty well and went up 1-0,” he said. “Their goalie played great and saved a couple of our shots while they were able to score on us. Going into the half, we were playing well defensively. The score might not have been indicative of that but after halftime, we were able to come out and play a sound defensive game, so it was nice to hold them to only two goals in the second half.”
Added senior defenseman Peter Johnson, “It’s been a theme of the year to be able to be down early in the game but be resilient and dig in and hold it while the offense steps up and plays their game. I couldn’t be prouder of how we played defensively today and hold a great offensive team to seven goals.”
The Bulldogs will play in the NCAA quarterfinals next weekend in College Park, MD against the winner of Sunday’s Syracuse-Bryant game.
It will be Coach Shay’s first trip to the NCAA quarterfinals as it is the program’s first trek under his tenure.
“It feels really good,” he said. “Coaches Niemi, Baxter, and Schneider did a phenomenal job. We would not be here without them,”
McCormack added, “It’s awesome. It’s a program day – we haven’t been in the quarterfinals in 21 years. A lot of alumni came out, and the fans were incredible, so it’s really nice to do it for Yale lacrosse.”