Co-captain Max Motschwiller notched two goals on three attempts Saturday in Harvard’s 10-9 defeat at the hands of Princeton. The Tigers have won 19 straight contests between the two teams, dating back to 1990.
For the second consecutive year, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team came inches from breaking a nearly two-decade winless streak against Ivy rival Princeton. And for the second consecutive year, the No. 15 Crimson came up just short with a 10-9 loss to the No. 2 Tigers Saturday afternoon at Class of 1952 Stadium.
In the dramatic final minutes, the Crimson fell behind 9-6 midway through the fourth quarter before responding to pull within one at 10-9 with 1:16 left. Despite two possessions in the final minute, sophomore Dean Gibbons turned the ball over, and the Tigers cleared it as time expired to secure the narrow victory.
Gibbons had the hot hand on the afternoon, posting a hat trick that included two fourth-quarter goals. But the Crimson faced a familiar problem in the waning seconds—being forced to take low percentage shots.
“I think that’s what hurt us,” Crimson coach John Tillman said. “We may have had more shots, but we didn’t shoot in good areas to make their goalie make some harder saves.”
The late-game hole the Crimson dug for itself was in large part a product of a lack of consistent play. Despite flashes of brilliance in both the first and final quarters, Harvard was outscored 6-2 in the middle frames—including 3-0 in the third—to fall behind 8-5 entering the fourth quarter.
“We didn’t capitalize on a couple of shots that we had early on,” co-captain Nick Smith said. “If we had made a couple of shots earlier on, it would’ve been a different game. We just made too many mistakes on both ends of the field, and they took advantage of them.”
Things started off slowly for both teams, but the Tigers struck first on a man-up goal just under five minutes into the game. Determined to keep pace, the Crimson battled back with goals from Gibbons, rookie Terry White, and co-captain Max Motschwiller to put three on the board and take a 3-2 lead into the second frame.
“Lacrosse is a game of ebbs and flows, and we call it the first punch,” Smith said. “If you throw the first one, it makes a big difference, sets the tone. That’s been an emphasis for us. We succeeded in doing that, but we weren’t able to sustain it for the whole game.”
Princeton turned the tables in the second to outscore Harvard by the same margin and send the teams into the break locked up at five.
After a lackluster second, things went from bad to worse in the third, as the Tigers quickly struck twice and added a third later in the frame to widen the gap. The Crimson failed to muster any offense, despite out-shooting them 9-6.
“Our play was a little sloppy,” Tillman said. “We made some mental errors. When you make mental errors against some of the better teams, they make you pay. Some of the critical ground balls can get you in transition, on a fast break. We weren’t able to get some of those. That was really disappointing.”
The game marked Harvard’s second one-goal defeat in a row against a top five Ivy League opponent after a heartbreaking 13-12 loss to Cornell the previous weekend. With an Ancient Eight championship nearly out of reach at this point, the Crimson must look to win out to return to the national tournament for the first time since 2006.
“Looking at some of the scores from before the new coaches came in, they were wide,” Tillman said. “We like that those games are now tighter, but at the end of the day, our goal is to win them. We’re not looking for moral victories, we’re looking for Ws. If we don’t get them, we’re selling ourselves short. Our kids are good enough to win these games.”
—Staff writer Madeleine I. Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.