A two-goal lead never seemed so small, as the No. 17 Harvard men’s lacrosse team watched its advantage slip away to No. 11 Penn (6-3, 3-2 Ivy) on Saturday afternoon. The 8-7 overtime loss at Franklin Field marked the Crimson’s first dropped Ivy League contest of the season, ending Harvard’s longest conference winning streak since 1998.
“We played a great game overall, but we just couldn’t execute at the end,” Harvard coach Chris Wocjik ’96 said.
Up 7-5 midway through the fourth quarter, Harvard (7-5, 3-1) looked as if it would remain undefeated in league play. But Penn wasn’t done yet. After an unassisted goal from the Quakers’ Zack Losco and an untimely Crimson offsides call, Penn found the back of the net with just 13 seconds remaining in regulation.
“We are really upset about the outcome, obviously,” co-captain Joe Petrucci said. “We outplayed them for the majority of the game, but they made a couple of key stops and some key plays that eventually lost us the game.”
The Harvard attacking unit outshot the home team, 36-27, led by two goals and an assist from co-captain Peter Schwartz. Sophomore Devin Dwyer also contributed three assists, bringing him to 38 on the season. Against the Quakers, Harvard saw an end to its eight game streak of scoring at least 10 goals.
“[Junior goaltender] Jake Gambitsky played an outstanding game,” Petrucci said. “As always he was really reliable, he made some excellent saves, and he was really the reason that our defense held them to a low number. He’s been a big part of our defense all year and he played a great game today.”
The stopper came up with 10 saves on the day, keeping the Crimson in the match until the final moments. But Quaker goalie Brian Feeney had a standout game between the posts, tallying 13 saves.
“It was a hard fought game overall,” Wocjik said. “We had great effort. We won the majority of the faceoffs, the effort was great on groundballs…. [Penn] just didn’t fall for it.”
Senior Gabriel Mendola set the pace for the Crimson for the second straight Ancient Eight matchup. Mendola won 13 of the 18 faceoffs at the midline.
“Gabe did a great job again,” said Wocjik. “He has been critical this season. He came into this game like he comes into them all. He was confident and did a really good job fighting to the ball and helping us come up with the possession.”
With his confidence and drive, Mendola tied his career high of 10 ground ball pickups. In the last three games, Mendola has won 37 of his 55 faceoffs and collected 22 ground balls.
“It was a solid effort on both ends of the field,” Wocjik said. “The defense kept it a relatively low-scoring game.”
Junior long stick midfielder Brian Fischer set a career high three caused turnovers and scooped up five loose balls, while sophomore defender Stephen Jahelka tallied a season high six ground balls.
The teams’ reunion was nearly identical to last year’s meeting, when the Crimson topped the Quakers, 8-7, on an extra time bullet from the stick of then-sophomore midfielder Murphy Vandervelde 1:18 into overtime.
“Penn is a very good team,” Wocjik said. “We’ve played some very close games with Penn, with a number of overtime games in the last four years. They’re a very strong team, and they have always been very good defensively. I thought today was the same thing. It was just a great, hard fought battle. I give them credit. They were in it to win it.”
The two teams have played beyond the final buzzer in three of the past four regular season contests, while Penn holds a 2-1 advantage in these overtime matchups. Saturday’s loss maintains Harvard’s position atop the Ivy League, though the Crimson now shares first with Cornell.
“We have to put this one behind us,” Petrucci said. “I think it’s really important that we stay positive and keep our confidence. Our goals that we put out for ourselves at the beginning of the season are still out there for us. We can still achieve all of them, but we have to be our best for these last couple of games and into the postseason.”
—Staff writer Caroline L. Ferguson can be reached at email@example.com.