SYRACUSE, N.Y.—Looking to avenge two losses to Rutgers in as many years, the Syracuse Orange came into the Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon focused and sharp. They jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, using superior size, speed, and skill to dictate the game from the opening whistle, winning 17-6. With many SU lacrosse alumni in the stands, Syracuse put on a show reminiscent of their dominant days on top of the lacrosse world.
Before the game Syracuse legends Paul and Gary Gait were honored. The stars waved and smile at the crowd from midfield while enjoying a standing-ovation. It is remarkable to think both can still compete on such a high level in the National Lacrosse League when you see them. They have aged greatly from their days as Orangemen, both showing gray hair and a more middle-aged physique. But the city of Syracuse and the lacrosse community owe them much for being true ambassadors of the game.
Syracuse looked sharp and determined today. Sophomore Danny Brennan won the opening faceoff, and the Orange never looked back. Junior goalie Greg Havalchak found out he was in for a long day when the Orange’s first goal was scored by a long pole. Sophomore Steve Panarelli carried the ball down field on a clear, got into the box, realized no one really stepped up to cover him, and drove right at the goal. He threw a few awkward stick fakes, and stuffed in a goal over Havalchak’s head. Thus began the first quarter onslaught by Syracuse.
About 30 seconds after Panarelli’s goal, junior Brian Crockett began the tallies for his impressive day. Crockett played out of the midfield mostly today, as opposed to his usual attack spot.
“It was fun,” Crockett said about the switch after the game. “It’s been a while since I’ve been up top.” He said he had better angles to shoot for working from up top instead of from behind.
“I was having an easier time finding him cutting from the top,” Leveille added.
It may have been a while, but it seems Crockett didn’t forget how to be an effective middy. He scored his first of five goals on a sweep shot, just coming around a high pick and skipping a bounce shot under Havalchak. Then, less than a minute later, Rommel drove down field, got an edge under his man, and pressed right at the crease. As he leaned in and began to fall he slipped the ball right under Havalchak for the goal.
About 45 seconds after Rommel’s goal, freshman Mike Leveille scored his first of four goals on the day. Junior Brett Bucktooth grabbed a loose ball in traffic on the wing and zipped a pass over to Leveille sitting 10 yards off crease, who caught it and fired it home. The assist was the first of four for Bucktooth, a career record.
After the game Syracuse head coach, John Desko, commented on how Bucktooth has become a feeder this season, and how that has filled a good role in the attack.
“It’s been surprising to me,” Desko said. “He was known as a shooter. He is very savvy and knows where everyone is on the offense.”
Leveille quickly added another goal when Rommel drove, found nothing, and kicked to freshman Greg Niewieroski behind. Niewieroski immediately found Leveille who caught and scored.
Syracuse rode hard, forcing several Rutgers turnovers and making it very difficult for them to settle and actually get the ball into their offensive set. The Scarlet Knights were only able to sit and establish about two or three good possessions all quarter.
Crockett stayed stride-for-stride with Leveille when 25 seconds later he got the ball low and tried to establish position about 3 yards off the post. He rolled left and right on his defender and finally jumped and shot over him and through the legs of Havalchak, giving Syracuse the 6-0 lead.
Rutgers was finally able to get a few offensive surges with about four minutes left in the quarter, but Syracuse senior goalie Jay Pfeifer was sharp despite a rather uneventful first quarter. His most impressive save perhaps being a ball that he blocked with his off-stick side shoulder on a good, hard ripper.
Syracuse opened up the second quarter with a duo that worked well for them in the first. Bucktooth hit an open Leveille on the wing who scored on a low bouncer, giving him the hat trick about 1:30 into the quarter. Rutgers finally got themselves on the board when senior Leif Blomquist drove, drew a double, and quickly kicked out to junior Devon Britts on the wing. Britts shot and scored before the help slide could come, using the approaching defender as a screen. But the Bucktooth-Leveille tandem could not be denied. Bucktooth grabbed a pass sinking towards the turf with his stick lunging forward. With pressure on him, instead of bringing the stick up where it would be checked immediately, he simply flipped to Leveille who was trailing him across the face of the cage. Leveille grabbed it and scored right over Havalchak’s shoulder.
Crockett kept pace and soon matched Leveille’s hat trick. Leveille had the ball behind and assisted Crockett on the wing, scoring a goal that looked very similar to the Leveille’s hat-trick goal. Senior Jake Plunket took the award for most impressive goal of the half. He got the ball in the low wing and drove hard at the goal. Standing up to a barrage of checks, Plunket had only one hand on his stick and effectively slammed the goal home over Havalchak’s head, giving Syracuse a 10-1 lead.
But Rutgers began to battle back with a little under seven minutes left in the quarter. Senior John Flanagan worked from X, dancing left and right behind the crease until he got his man caught off balance in the net. He quickly came around and beat Pfeifer to the low post. Senior Sean Battoni added another, driving from the box, making a good dodge, and scoring off a bounce shot.
But just as Rutgers seemed to be gaining some momentum off two straight goals and two straight faceoff wins, Syracuse stretched the lead again. Bucktooth got the ball in an unsettled situation and pulled it out to the wing to settle. But Park came running to the middle of the field virtually unguarded, so Bucktooth lobbed a pass over that Park could run under. Park snagged it and ran at crease, putting the goal away on Havalchak’s off stick side hip.
A 30 second push penalty on Brennan gave Rutgers a much needed opportunity to establish an offensive and get a goal. Blomquist found junior John Manners who planted and ripped a shot into the off stick side top corner for the man-up goal. But Syracuse again had the immediate answer. Rommel caused a turnover at the midfield, grabbed the loose ball, and carried all the way down field for the score.
Though the half was dominated by Syracuse, Rutgers did get in the last word. Rutgers won the ensuing faceoff. Sophomore Matt Gaines carried down field and threw a quick pass over to sophomore Colin Checcio who shot and scored sitting about 10 yards off the post, ending the half with Syracuse leading 12-5.
Halftime celebrated four historic teams for Syracuse. First was the 1979 team that Coach Desko played on. This was the first Syracuse team to make the NCAA tournament, the beginning of Syracuse’s eventual post season power. Then there was the 2000 national championship team celebrating the fifth anniversary of their win, the first championship under Desko’s regime. Next was the 1995 national championship team, celebrating their tenth anniversary. Perhaps the most famous team was the 1990 national championship team, lead by the famous Paul and Gary Gait. All the alumni soaked up loud applause, and some participated in half-time games with fans.
Rutgers opened the second half the same way they closed the first, scoring. Junior Austin Rodgers drove, drawing some room for a shot when he kicked back to Battoni, who set his feet and scored. But much like the first half, Rutgers wasn’t given a chance to go on a run. Crockett increased his goal total, scoring the most impressive goal of the second half. Crockett grabbed a loose ball and drove at the cage, but was tripped. Not losing the ball, Crockett fired a shot from where he was sitting on the turf that slipped in under Havalchak.
After that fluke goal, Havalchak remained strong for the rest of the quarter, getting four of his seven saves, including one where Bucktooth drove at the post, got in tight and tried a nifty behind the back shot to the top stick side corner. Havalchak played his angles well and read it all the way, robbing Bucktooth of a goal. Rutgers pressed hard in the last thirty seconds of the quarter, but a great check by Rommel on a hanging Scarlet Knight’s stick kept Rutgers from getting a good shot, and so the quarter ended with the Orange still on top, 13-6.
The fourth quarter gave each team a chance to get some new faces on the field. Syracuse Coach John Desko ran a lot of this second and third midfield groups, giving valuable experience to many young players. Niewieroski got himself a goal, driving down from the top of the box and sticking the far corner. Less than 30 seconds later, Crockett capped his impressive day, making a move on his man and going in to score his fifth goal.
Though he did not face a lot of pressure today, Pfeifer set a record of his own. Pfeifer made his 693rd career save off a shot from Battoni with 10:48 left in the game, making him second all-time in saves in Syracuse history.
After the game Pfeifer said he was unaware that he might be able to break the record during the game. “I heard it during the game,” he said in his usual cool, blasé tone. “I don’t know…It’s great.”
During a TV timeout with 7:38 to go, Rutgers switched goalies, putting in freshman Lyle Farrar. The Orange followed suit, subbing in freshman Jake Myers with 5:33 remaining. By this point Syracuse had no starters left in the game.
Some new names were able to work their way into the Syracuse scorer’s book. Junior John Gallagher carried the ball over midfield on a clear, paused near the wing line, and saw a WIDE open senior Andrew Boyle cutting towards cage. Gallagher riffled a pass over and Boyle came unguarded at the cage, threw three small fakes, and tucked the ball under Farrar. Syracuse got their last goal with 27 seconds left. Freshman Brendan Loftus swept around a pick at the top of the box and drove down at the cage, scoring off a bounce shot. Brennan then one the last faceoff, and the Orange secured a controlling 17-6 victory.
“It was just a bad combination of things that could happen,” Rutgers coach Jim Stagnitta said after the game. “I think Syracuse played well. I think we did not.”
“I think today they were very accurate with there shots,” Havalchak said. “I think they slowed the game down…some of our defensemen had trouble keeping with there players, getting free shots. That’s never good.”
“Good game for us today, both offensively and defensively,” Desko said after the game. “Good game for us to get the W, and get everybody in the game.”
He said today was a bit of a message game, trying to put together a very strong performance with just three weeks left in the season. “This team doesn’t like to losing…we had a great attitude coming in. We thought, ‘We can do this.’”
And did it they did. Syracuse lead in every statistical category Saturday, 48-29 in shots, 36-18 in groundballs, 19-8 in faceoffs, and 11-7 in saves.
Syracuse stays at home to play Albany next Friday night at 7. Rutgers plays Penn State at home in Yurcak Field in Piscataway, N.J., at noon on Saturday.
|Brian Crockett||(5, 0)|
|Mike Leveille||(4, 1)|
|Brett Bucktooth||(0, 4)|
|Greg Rommel||(2, 0)|
|Greg Niewieroski||(1, 1)|
|John Gallagher||(0, 1)|
|Andrew Boyle||(1, 0)|
|Jake Plunket||(1, 0)|
|Jarett Park||(1, 0)|
|Steve Panarelli||(1, 0)|
|Brendan Loftus||(1, 0)|
|Jay Pfeifer||10 (0.625)|
|Jake Myers||1 (1.000)|