Men's Lacrosse Stuns League-Leading Yale with Comeback Win

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Sophomore midfielder James Sullivan strains as he battles for a faceoff in Saturday’s contest versus Yale. The Crimson hosted the Bulldogs, who had started the conference season 5-0 for the first time since 1957. But that streak came crashing to a halt at Harvard Stadium, as the Crimson clawed back from a four-goal deficit to steal the upset. The win gave the hosts their second league victory of 2017.

The 100th time’s the charm, it turns out.

After a slow start, Harvard men’s lacrosse fought back in the second half, upsetting No. 11 Yale in the final stages of the 100th meeting of the two storied institutions.

Freshman attackman Ryan Graff scored the game-winner with 2:48 left in regulation. With the score knotted at 8-8, junior goalie Rob Shaw made a crucial stop, quickly lobbing an outlet pass to senior midfielder Sean Coleman, who was streaking down the center of the field. Coleman carried the ball to the top of the box, where he met a second Bulldog defender. The double team turned back Coleman, but the savvy tri-captain moved the ball to junior attackman Morgan Cheek. Then Cheek made the key feed to Graff, whose defender had rushed to confront Coleman and left Graff alone on the doorstep.

Yale (8-5, 5-1 Ivy) entered Saturday’s matchup 5-0 in conference play, looking for its first undefeated Ivy League campaign since 1957.

For the majority of the first half, it looked as if Yale would attain that feat. The Bulldogs had amassed a 4-0 lead in the waning moments of the second quarter, but as Harvard (6-7, 2-4 Ivy) has done all season, the offense turned to Cheek. The nation’s seventh-leading point-scorer weaved through a pack of four Yalies to put the Crimson on the board with 3:43 to play in the half. Less than a minute later, junior attackman Tim Edmonds scored his first of three goals, and the Crimson entered the break down 4-2.

The Bulldogs wasted no time in jumping to a 6-2 lead 4:46 into the third quarter. The two sides then traded goals, leaving Harvard trailing 7-3 with just under six minutes to play in the quarter. And that’s where the magic began.

“We continued to urge and encourage the guys to just keep playing and stay focused in the moment—keep playing one play at a time and not play the scoreboard,” Wojcik said. “The team showed a tremendous amount of resilience, and showed a lot of resolve to keep fighting—keep battling in a game where we were down 4-0 and didn’t score our first goal until the last few minutes of the first half.”

Edmonds kicked off Harvard’s run with 4:51 left in the frame. Over the next 2:31, three consecutive goals from Cheek, Edmonds, and Coleman tied the game at seven apiece after three quarters.

“We got a break, and we were able to score four goals in a row heading into the fourth,” Wojcik said. “We won a couple of faceoffs in a row, and we were able to hit our shots. We were sloppy with the ball in the first half offensively. In that third quarter, you saw us play with a little quicker tempo—just won a few faceoffs and buried our shots.”

The Bulldogs answered with a man-up goal early in the final stanza, but Harvard responded 58 seconds later. Junior midfielder Joe Lang, who was held without a point for the first time this season, dodged between defenders at the point before firing a shot that ricocheted off the left side of Yale goalie Phil Huffard and into the hands of Graff, who put home the rebound.

A back-and-forth battle ensued over the next 10:47 before Graff delivered the final blow, sealing Harvard’s improbable triumph.

Senior goalie Colin Delea started in net, stopping one shot before making way for Shaw, who went on to face a barrage. Yale eclipsed the 50-shot mark late in the fourth quarter—eventually tallying 53. The Bulldogs ultimately managed 28 shots on goal, 20 of which Shaw and Delea turned away, good for a .714 save percentage. Shaw’s performance was highlighted by an eight-save fourth quarter, in which the Harvard defense held Yale scoreless over the final 14:33 of play.

“First off, what really got us going was senior Colin Delea,” Wojcik said. “We wanted to honor him and reward him for his hard work, his dedication, and being a great teammate over his career. So we started Colin…. Rob came in and was outstanding.”

From a statistical perspective, Yale won the game, outshooting Harvard 53-36, going 14-20 at the faceoff X, and picking up more ground balls.

But at the end of the day, the only stat that mattered was the final score. And thanks to the Crimson’s timely comeback, the seniors finished on a high note.

—Staff writer Will V. Robbins can be reached at will.robbins@thecrimson.com.

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