In a game we’ve been waiting 351 days for since the 2020 season was shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team got run out of its own building (what was it called again? The Dome? The Stadium? I can never get that right) by the Army Black Knights, 18-11, in the 2021 season opener.
The result was especially so surprising because of the way the Orange began the game, jumping all over Army in the early going to the tune of a 6-1 lead, only to see Army flip the script in what I’m going to call a “reverse Syracuse basketball against Notre Dame”. The Black Knights closed the game on a three-quarter-long 17-5 beatdown, leaving us all with a feeling best summed up by our former TNIAAM buddy Chris Jastrzembski on twitter:
It all began so well, too. Syracuse opened the scoring not 30 seconds into the season as redshirt sophomore Chase Scanlan recognized his short-stick matchup, faked a pass, and attacked the cage to put home the season’s first goal.
After Army tied it up in transition off an SU turnover (stand by for that theme), the Orange rattled off a Tucker Dordevic-led run of five straight goals to gain that 6-1 advantage late in the first quarter. Dordevic had SU fans giddy in the early going as he dominated his matchups, scoring against both long-sticks and shorties, with both hands and by attacking his defenders head-on.
After redshirt senior Jamie Trimboli scored a goal that gave him 100 points for his career, ‘Cuse was giving us vibes that 2020 was going to flow right into 2021.
Of course, they were playing Army, and Army is never out of it. You knew they’d make it a close game again, but nobody could have seen this coming.
As the second quarter commenced, Army began their own run that never relented in the game’s final three quarters. Army closed the half on a 7-1 run highlighted mostly by sloppy passing from the Orange, great transition from the Black Knights, and a [insert Undertaker gif] from Army goalie Wyatt Schupler.
The man between the pipes for the Black Knights went from barely-there to brick wall in the blink of an eye as SU went on a 20-minute run from the first quarter to early third quarter where they only scored one goal.
By the time we got into the third quarter, face-off struggles got added to the list of Syracuse problems. Redshirt junior Jakob Phaup, who much like the offense started the game so well, sputtered out as the second half wore on.
Army outscored SU 5-1 in the third quarter to extend the lead to 13-8 entering the 4th, and the Orange never got within four the rest of the way. Their offense never reclaimed any semblance of the rhythm we saw to open the game.
In the end, this game seemingly confirmed the major fear that I had coming in: that Syracuse was behind the eight-ball in terms of getting a late start to the season.
They didn’t start practice until February 1 while Army started in January, and Army had their game last week against the Virginia Cavaliers to work some things out for today’s game, which SU did not have.
The sloppy passing and turnovers were a disaster for ‘Cuse. A lot of passes were forced into the middle of Army’s defense, most of which were either not caught or knocked away by a defensive stick, but overall you saw a lot of mistakes in the passing and catching of the offense that I don’t think we’ll see (certainly not as much) as the season goes on and the team has more chance to find a rhythm.
Army takes advantage of turnovers
Turnovers are never good, but they’re a nightmare when a team is able to take them and convert them into instant offense, which is exactly what Army did.
The Black Knights scored a handful of goals in transition situations, never allowing the SU defense a chance to get set, off SU turnovers. They attacked with efficiency, taking advantage of seemingly every Syracuse mistake to help get the win.
When the Orange weren’t turning the ball over, they ran into the issue of Wyatt Schupler. The Army goalie was a little groggy to start the game, making only one save in the first quarter while surrendering six goals. But he made a string of saves early in the second quarter on SU’s first man-up opportunity of the game, and that kick-started his day to the tune of 12 saves, many of which came from close-range.
The net minder became a brick wall of frustration for the Orange offense, and it didn’t help that SU stung a few pipes, as well. But, no doubt, if Schupler doesn’t play as well as he did, this result certainly would have been a lot closer, to say the least.
Phaup got off to a flying start in this one, winning 11-16 in the first half. Of course, winning at the dot only means so much when your offense starts turning the ball over, but Phaup was doing his job.
As the second half wore on, though, Phaup started to struggle. He and redshirt senior Danny Varello went only 8-16 after halftime.
Let’s do a little math for a second: 50 percent face-off percentage + an offense turning the ball over + a hot opposing goalie making lots of saves = five goals in the final three quarters. FIVE GOALS IN THREE QUARTERS! COME ON!
Those three main factors combined to create a perfect storm for this Syracuse offense, and it got even uglier when combined with the play of the defense...
Issues might be putting it nicely. Let’s get the stats out of the way:
18 goals is the most Army has scored against Syracuse since 1971. All but one goal came from five Black Knight players, all of whom had at least a hat trick. Stud attackman Brendan Nichtern had seven points (4G, 3A) while midfielder Bobby Abshire had six (4G, 2A).
The Syracuse defense had a really bad day. Brett Kennedy had a really bad day (trying) to defend Nichtern. Redshirt senior goalie Drake Porter, while he did make 13 saves, had a really bad day against an Army offense that was (I hope) operating at peak efficiency. They shot an amazing 41.9 percent (18-43), and were clinical in the way they took advantage of Orange miscues.
It’s no surprise that you can’t make that many mistakes against Army and get away with it, but it just felt like Army made Syracuse pay for every single mistake they made today.
We knew defense was the biggest question mark roster-wise heading into the season, but it was disappointing to see them struggle this much with communication, positioning and coverage. The hustle was definitely there, and they forced some turnovers throughout the day which were good to see, but there is much work to be done for a defense that is going to be shuffling pieces around to find out what works best.
Only One Game
So, yeah, this pretty much sucked. Like, literally. It sucked some of the energy out of the idea that Syracuse is one of the best teams in the country and a serious contender for Memorial Day.
But, we’ve got to try to keep our heads about us. It was only one game in a 12-game season.
There was so much that went wrong for SU today. There is so much to clean up.
This team needs a little more time to get things in order. Let’s not forget the offensive greatness that flashed in front of our eyes in the first 15 minutes. How awesome was that? The offense humming the way it was. Dordevic dominating matchups. Scanlan’s improved dodging. Trimboli, Curry, Scanlan, Dordevic, and Rehfuss all getting mouth-watering shortie matchups.
Yes, they completely lost that rhythm for all the reasons discussed above, but that first 15 minutes can be a reality for this Syracuse team. No, they don’t have much time to get it right. Less than a week, in fact, until a Virginia team that has looked great in three games comes to town. The defense has an unenviable task ahead of them, again, to put it nicely.
But, when Syracuse and Virginia get together, it’s always game on. This team is already re-focused on that task, and they’ll be (I hope) ready to play with hyper-focused anger after that opening performance.
Saturday, February 27. Syracuse—Virginia. 6 PM. ACC Network. Let’s Go!