And it was the Minutemen who escaped with a narrow 11-10 victory after maintaining a steady lead for most of the game.
UMass, which played in last year’s NCAA championship game against Virginia, returned only one of its starting attackmen this year.
The Crimson’s leading scorer last year, senior attackman Evan Calvert, played his first game back from injury, but was “playing hurt,” according to Harvard coach Scott Anderson.
“[Calvert] is a weapon that you have to think about defensively,” Anderson said. “So we thought, ‘We play him even if he was 50 percent.’”
Calvert’s presence drew the Minutemen defense, allowing captain Brian Mahler to step up and lead the Crimson with four goals.
“He sucked the defense into the middle and allowed for me and Carle Stenmark to get the shots that we wanted and get a lot more opportunities,” Mahler said. “And that’s a positive.”
Mahler’s explosive effort was not enough to overcome UMass sophomore attackman Jim Connolly’s performance, though, as the Minutemen’s only returning offensive starter ripped a career-high five goals.
The Crimson began the afternoon by scoring the first two goals—Mahler sprinted past his defender for an unassisted goal following Stenmark’s fast-break score to start the game.
The lead did not last much past the first quarter, though, as Connolly scored all three goals during a 3-1 UMass run, tying the game at 3-3 with 13:15 left in the second quarter.
Freshman defenseman Billy Geist was called for a holding penalty, which led to the Minutemen’s go-ahead score about a minute later.
In the crucial second quarter, Harvard kept it close but it was UMass’ man-up situation efficiency that made the difference—the Crimson did not score in either extra-man situation it had in the second period, while the Minutmen converted its only one successfully.
After another goal by Connolly put UMass up 5-3, the visitors missed a golden opportunity to gain a three-score lead when a fast-break 2-on-1 ended with Connolly’s shot bouncing off the post. Harvard freshman midfielder Jason Duboe took advantage of the miss to punch in his own score, moving the Crimson within one.
Harvard answered another UMass goal with only one second remaining in the half, as Stenmark rocketed a shot from the top of the box. The whistle blew with the Minutemen up, 6-5.
UMass opened the second half with three goals in the first four minutes—Connolly scored the third after recovering from a fall—to expand its lead to 9-5, its cushion lead of the game.
The Crimson managed to bounce back. Minutemen defenders failed to see a completely open Mahler, who scored easily off an assist by sophomore attackman Max Motschwiller.
Duboe followed Mahler’s goal by ripping another one through the defense to closing the third quarter with the UMass lead down to two.
After a slow start in the fourth quarter, the teams exchanged goals to make the score 10-8.
The Crimson, determined not to let the game get away, saw junior midfielder Zach Widbin run coast-to-coast after catching a clearing pass.
He had barely reached offensive territory when a Minutemen defender took him out, but not before he passed the ball off to Calvert. The senior scored his only goal of the game, bringing Harvard within one.
A diving score by senior midfielder Brian Jacovina gave UMass a crucial two-point edge with only 2:43 to go, but an unsportsmanlike conduct call following the goal meant the Minutemen had to play one man down for a full minute.
It was Harvard’s failure to convert the extra-man situation into a goal that led to its downfall, and a score by freshman midfielder Dave Dobrosky with five seconds left came too late to ignite a Crimson rally.
“It was just kind of one of those situations about who wanted it more,” Mahler said. “I’m proud of the guys—they played really well and fought hard. The only thing that really didn’t go our way was the outcome.”
Harvard’s starting defense on Saturday was entirely composed of freshmen and sophomores, which may help to explain some of the miscommunication and minor positioning errors the squad experienced.
“They’re a really good group athletically, but they’re struggling with lack of leadership,” Anderson said.
Stenmark and Duboe added two goals each to go along with Mahler’s career-high four scores, and senior midfielder John Henry Flood lived up to his national face-off reputation by winning 17 of his 25 draws.
The Crimson looks to grab its first win this season when it travels to Fairfield, Conn. this Saturday to play the Stags.