Penn State Men's Lacrosse Falls Behind Early, Loses 21-17 To Yale In Final Four
PHILADELPHIA, PA.-- For Penn State men's lacrosse a 21-17 loss to Yale in the NCAA Final Four will be the most difficult pill the program has had to swallow. A historic season coming up short of its full potential, a national title just two wins and 72 hours from reality.
It will be hard to forget the 10-2 opening first quarter, those 10 goals tied for the most any team has ever scored in 15 minutes of semifinal play. It will be hard to let go of the turnovers or the matchup of TD Ierlan at the draw, the best faceoff specialist in the nation and one of the best to ever play the game.
It will be hard to forget the crowd, urging the Nittany Lions on one step further down an uncharted path. Just a year ago Penn State had never won an NCAA Tournament game, now it could nearly reach out and touch a trophy.
Saturday's game began much like the press conference following it: Penn State players in shock and Yale players celebrating. The Bulldogs went ahead 3-0 less than three minutes into regulation. Then it was 4-0. Then 5-1, then 6-1, then 7-1, then 8-1, then 10-1, then 10-2.
"You could just see it in their eyes," Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni said after the game. "They had the weight of the world on them instead of just going out there and playing a game of lacrosse. Maybe we made too much out of it or too little out of it (the game importance) but we just wanted the to relax and compete. We believe that if we just did this that over time we were going to come back and put together a decent effort."
"Just relax, and enjoy the opportunity you earned playing over the last nine months."
And on cue, Penn State's offense -about the only in the nation that could erase that kind of deficit- slowly did. The game swinging back in the other direction as a 10-2 deficit was a 12-9 game at the half. Still a hill to climb, but with momentum on Penn State's side and a three-goal deficit far less daunting than an eight-goal margin, the impossible comeback seemed far less so.
The problem of course, comebacks require near perfection, they require an opponent to make mistakes, they require a bit of luck. And to expect that against a team like Yale, one that does not make mistakes and one that makes the most of its own opportunities, the comeback in this case may in fact, be impossible.
And so the teams traded goals in the third quarter, four both ways, a call and response dance that kept Penn State in the game but never quite in reach. Each time the Nittany Lions seemed poised to get over the hump the Bulldogs would answer. The Nittany Lions had two extended possessions, neither ending with a goal, Yale running in transition, pushing the lead back to five goals.
Even so by the end of the third quarter the margin was still only four goals and 15 minutes of lacrosse can last an eternity in the right hands.
Penn State never got any closer.
Yale closed like defending champions, scoring in the opening minute of the final quarter and then twice in eight seconds a few minutes later. The comeback was out of reach, the effort not lacking but the luck and execution not enough. Ierlan won 28 of 39 draws setting up a Bulldog offense that ripped 30 shots on Penn State goalie Colby Kneese.
"I'm kind of at a loss for words," junior Grant Ament said, his 25 points in the tournament tied for the most ever. "The fact that the season is over, this senior class they decided to just be a little bit different than we were in years past. They created a standard in and around the locker room that was held accountable every day. I had never been on a team quite like that. We had our ups and downs but I would say the resiliency of this group is something I'm the most proud of."
"We never had to see it to believe it, to get to the biggest stage."
On the one hand Penn State will look at Saturday as a missed opportunity, a chance squandered so close to the ultimate prize. The Nittany Lions will lament a slow start, will regret being unable to crack an elite faceoff specialist in time, grind their teeth when reviewing turnovers and wish for another shot to make a handful of saves.
Penn State players and coaches will remember all of those things, and they will allow for that disappointed to wash over them as the summer rolls along.
But they will also remember that they had never been here before, had never seen 32,000 people looking back at them and had never felt the pressure of the sport's biggest stage. They will remember the 16 wins, the Big Ten Title and their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory.
They will need to remember it all if that want to reach their goals, the good and the bad, the heartbreak and the thrill of victory.
Because in the end the programs that win it all are not the ones who have always avoided failure, they are the ones that experienced it and learned.
"I hope it gives us a little credibility in the lacrosse world," Tambroni added. "You've got to compete day in and day out and find a way to get over the hump, but I do believe this is a group that is going to stay hungry into the summer and into next year and we're going to compete. I don't know if we'll be back here but we're going to compete at the game's highest level, I believe that in my heart for years to come."