It was a walk in College Park. Then it wasn’t. And then something special happened.
The Syracuse men’s lacrosse team was well on its way to its first NCAA Final Four since 2009 before the offense went silent for more than 40 minutes. Trailing 6-4 with 3:04 to play, the Orange rallied to tie the game with goals 46 seconds apart.
Goalie Dominic Lamolinara then denied Yale on the doorstep, Dylan Donahue notched the game winner with 13 seconds remaining and the Syracuse senior class avoided becoming the first since 1979 to miss championship weekend in each of its four years on campus.
Syracuse won this game, its ninth one-goal game of the season, because it didn’t panic and it made big plays when they counted most. No. 22 JoJo Marasco willed the team to victory with patience and excellent decision-making while picking up assists on the Orange’s final two goals.
The team will need that level of contribution, perhaps more, when it faces Denver at 5 p.m. on Saturday at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia and again on Monday against either Cornell or Duke.
The Denver Pioneers (14-4), led by former Orange nemesis and Princeton coach Bill Tierney, are a scrappy bunch and own a potent offense that can flip on in a second. The team battled back from a 6-0 deficit to the North Carolina Tar Heels in the quarterfinals.
Like Syracuse, the Pioneers are more than comfortable playing in tight games. The team ended the season 5-3 in one-goal games. Its four losses—to Penn State, Notre Dame, Fairfield and Ohio State—were by a combined six goals.
Senior attack Eric Law leads Denver with 75 points (40 goals, 35 assists). He ranks 11th in the NCAA in points per game (4.17) and 19th in assists per game (1.94). Linemate Wes Berg has notched 56 goals, second nationally to Cornell’s Steve Mock (59).
Meanwhile, midfielder Cameron Flint is Denver’s third 50-point scorer, producing 36 goals and 14 assists this season.
Faceoff specialist Chase Carraro ranks 14th in the country at the X, winning 57 percent of his draws.
Tierney goes with a timeshare in the net. Goaltenders Ryan LaPlante and Jamie Faus have shared time in the cage all season. Against North Carolina, LaPlante got the starting nod, but let in six goals in less than 10 minutes. Faus replaced him and surrendered just five goals the rest of the way.
LaPlante has a save percentage of .557 and a goals-against average of 10.14 in nearly 604 minutes played. Faus has a .567 save percentage and a 9.07 goals-against average.
For Syracuse to win on Saturday (and potentially Monday), it will need Marasco to create opportunities for his teammates. It will need Scott Loy and Henry Schoonmaker to score on the run.
It will need Brian Megill, Dave Hamlin, Matt Harris and the rest of the Orange defense to slow down Denver’s dynamic offense. It will need Lamolinara to make key stops.
It will need to limit the deficit at the faceoff X.
It may need someone or someones (Matt Pratt and Drew Jenkins) to step up in place of midfielder Steve Ianzito, who injured his ankle against Yale.
I wrote off this team multiple times this season for its inconsistent play, its inability to put away its opponents and its weakness at the faceoff X. And all it did was prove me wrong.
Credit Coach John Desko for the job he’s done this season; it may be his best coaching job yet.
Syracuse found some magic against Yale. Now it needs to create some more on championship weekend. The team has a chance to capture its 12th national title—the most unlikely and satisfying yet.