Penn lacrosse is still battling for a playoff spot. For these Quakers, there must be something in the oats.
The Penn Quakers rolled into Harvard Stadium on Saturday afternoon, and all looked well until a disappointing fourth quarter dashed the Crimson’s hopes of returning to .500 in Ivy League play. Harvard ultimately fell to Penn, 14-10.
Freshman midfielder Nigel Andrews returned following a two-game hiatus, and made an immediate impact. The New Yorker opened Saturday’s scoring, fielding a rebound and putting it away after junior midfielder Carney Mahon fired a shot from the point that ricocheted off the left post.
Back-to-back goals from junior attackman Morgan Cheek and his brother, freshman midfielder Watson Cheek, pushed the Crimson advantage to three with 5:36 remaining in the first stanza. Penn soon responded with a pair of scores to cut Harvard’s lead to one.
“If we hadn’t started the game strong, we wouldn’t have been in the game at all,” said Cheek. “Throughout the season that’s been a point of emphasis for us to come out of the gates flying.”
Harvard’s riding unit exploded in the waning seconds of the first quarter, as the elder Cheek deflected Penn goalie Reed Junkin’s pass near midfield. Junkin, caught well out of position, raced back to his cage, but to no avail—Cheek swept up the bouncing ground ball, and scored a long range bomb to put the Crimson up 4-2 with 15 seconds to play in the first quarter.
Moments later, Harvard retained possession following a Penn faceoff violation, and the Crimson capitalized. Freshman attackman Ryan Graff handled a pass on the wing from senior tri-captain Sean Coleman. The Canadian then ripped a sidearm shot into the upper-left corner to beat the buzzer with 3 seconds left in the quarter.
“We knew it was going to be a battle from the beginning,” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik said. “It’s always a tough game versus Penn. They’re an excellent team, and they play extremely hard, but we played really hard, too. I thought we opened the game really well—very good on offense, and defense as well. Our execution just fell off.”
Harvard (5-6, 1-3 Ivy) suffered a characteristic backtrack in the second quarter. The Crimson found itself trailing by two after hemorrhaging five unanswered goals to the Quakers (5-5, 2-3 Ivy) in an 8:50 span that began 40 seconds into the frame.
“Penn dominated possession, and I think that was a big part of the story,” said Wojcik. “We come out with a lot of energy, and we kind of have that lull in the middle part of the first quarter to the second quarter, which really costs us. We saw that same thing today—its unfortunate, and it’s a broken record.”
Harvard’s 3.45 first-quarter scoring average compared to its 2.36 average in the second quarter quantifies that “lull,” and despite dropping six of its last seven, the Crimson has played its past seven opponents an even 25-25 in the first quarter. In those games, Harvard has been outscored 25-16 in the second quarter.
Cheek converted his eighth hat trick of the season with 2:50 to play in the first half, ending Penn’s offensive barrage to enter the half down 7-6. He added two more goals in the second half, along with an assist to end the game with six total points. Having tallied five or more points in seven of eleven games this season, the Winthrop dweller boosted his scoring average to 3.09 goals per game, and points average to 5.27 per game.
“I wasn’t doing anything special, or out of the ordinary,” said Cheek. “I think I just took advantage of my chances, and the ball happened to go in—I happened to be in the right spot at the right time. I credit the whole offense for playing a good game…We battled hard, but when it mattered, they made the plays at the end, and they beat us straight up.”
With 10:12 left in the fourth quarter, Harvard had clawed its way back to lead 10-9. The Crimson’s optimism took a discouraging turn, as Harvard proceeded to concede five straight goals to Penn to end the game.
Harvard went 6-28 (21.4 percent) at the faceoff X on Saturday, and just 2-13 in the second half. Three of those six wins on the day came by way of a Penn violation. Until Harvard can produce a more efficient faceoff unit, the Crimson will struggle mightily to win games. In its past three losses, Harvard has gone 23-85 on faceoffs (27.1 percent). The season average fell to a season low 36.4 percent.
“We’re going to keep fighting—it’s as simple as that,” said Wojcik. “We’re still mathematically alive.”
—Staff writer Will Robbins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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