Now that’s what I’m talking about!
THAT is the Syracuse Orange men’s lacrosse team we all thought we’d be seeing take the field in 2021.
THAT is Syracuse lacrosse pic.twitter.com/F3d83esu0H— Syracuse Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) February 28, 2021
In a 20-10 trashing of ACC rival and the No. 2 ranked Virginia Cavaliers, Syracuse played a complete game, dominating just about every facet and leaving ‘Cuse fans feeling like:
Syracuse was paced on the night by a career game from Brendan Curry, who led the way with seven points on three goals and four assists. Curry’s production was matched by a resurgent Orange attack of Stephen Rehfuss (3 G, 3 A) and Owen Hiltz (3 G, 2 A) making his first and definitely not his last start. Tucker Dordevic rounded out the quad of players recording a hat trick. Overall, seven Syracuse players had at least two goals on the night.
A look at the team stats shows ‘Cuse controlled every major area of the game. They outshot Virginia, 55-39. They won two-thirds of the face-offs, 22 out of 33. They won the ground ball battle, 35-30. They even caused more failed clears (5) than UVA did (3).
Overall, Syracuse displayed a complete reversal from the team we saw six days ago against Army. They had an improved offensive strategy/execution, took a giant overall leap forward on defense, dominated face-offs to control possession, saw the real Drake Porter, and beat Virginia at their own game in the riding and ground ball departments.
After the Orange opened the scoring on goals from Lucas Quinn and Chase Scanlan, Virginia powered back on four straight goals from some of their biggest names in Ian Laviano, Connor Shellenberger, Payton Cormier, and Charlie Bertrand.
The run, which quickly took place in about three and a half minutes, started giving me flashbacks to the Army game, as the defense predictably looked like they were going to get run over by Virginia’s powerful offense.
However, following the conclusion of that run, the coaching staff made a personal move that changed the game on the Orange defensive end: they brought Gettysburg transfer Mitch Wykoff into the game at close defense and rotated Brett Kennedy up to his natural position of LSM.
The switch was huge on multiple fronts. First off, it placed Kennedy at the position where he makes the greatest impact on the game, defending from the midfield and being a key transition piece to the offense. We saw it in action late in the third quarter when Kennedy broke loose after a GB and streaked down the middle of the field to score a big transition goal. That's not generally something he can do when he’s playing close defense. Furthermore, it allows Kennedy to play on the wing for face-offs, scooping up ground balls and getting the ball into SU sticks rather than UVA sticks.
It also brought Mitch Wykoff into the game. Coming in cold off the bench, Wykoff was tasked with taking Kennedy’s spot and defending one of the best attackman in the game, Matt Moore. He and the whole defense did a phenomenal job, holding Moore to zero goals.
From there, ‘Cuse completely took over the game. Down 5-3 late in the first quarter, Brendan Curry kicked off what became one of the best days of his incredible career. In the final 30 seconds, Curry took the ball behind the cage, dodged up beyond goal-line extended, and then rolled back towards the cage to bounce home the first of his seven points on the night.
Curry’s goal made the score 5-4 UVA to end the first quarter, and ignited a run that lasted the rest of the game. Including that goal, Syracuse finished the game stomping all over Virginia 17-7 in a reversal of what happened to them last week against Army.
‘Cuse won the second quarter, 5-2, on goals by Owen Seebold (two), Tucker Dordevic, Jamie Trimboli, and Stephen Rehfuss.
This game saw a major overhaul of offensive strategy by Pat March and his players between the two games. Against Army, the offense was largely initiated on wing dodges by midfielders as the passing game struggled to operate properly.
But tonight, we saw an Orange offense that wanted to operate from behind the cage. The main strategy appeared to be inverting middies who had the short-stick matchup, and attacking the shorties from X to create offense by either beating them for a goal, or passing off to an open teammate once a slide was drawn.
Nobody embodied this more effectively tonight than Curry. Every time he got the shortie matchup, which was a shockingly large number of times, he took a stroll below goal-line extended and started to go to work. In the second quarter, he made a simple pass to Tucker Dordevic who sent it home with time and room. Two minutes later, he dodged-and-dished to Jamie Trimboli for a slam dunk finish at the crease.
Curry also dodged and called his own number coming up from X multiple times, as did Owen Seebold, who scored his first two goals of the season in the second quarter by using the very same invert-on-a-shortie strategy. It worked wonders for the Orange tonight and helped fans get a glimpse of the offense we’ve been dreaming about all offseason.
With a 9-7 halftime lead, SU used the second half to turn the game into a blowout and remind ‘Cuse fans all that they have to be excited about with this team. The Orange outscored the Cavs 11-3 in the final 30 minutes for the extremely rare non-competitive game in the SU-UVA rivalry.
You know you want to watch it again.— Syracuse Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) February 28, 2021
Highlights from tonight's bounce-back victory pic.twitter.com/9Dl9tdVMYw
Such a massive part of tonight’s success was Jakob Phaup and the face-off unit. Phaup took every re-start, and he and his cohorts won 22-33 face-offs on the night. A Cavalier team that was dominant on FO through their first three games got overwhelmed, and as a result, their offensive possessions dried up, and so did the tallies on the scoresheet.
The final big key tonight was Drake Porter, who took his struggles to heart and showed us what he’s all about in this game. He turned away 13 Virginia shots for a 56.5 save percentage. Even though he interestingly had the exact same amount of saves against Army, he did so while giving up eight fewer goals and increasing his save percentage roughly 15 points. Porter was awesome in between the pipes tonight, making big saves right from the start and keeping any hope of a Cavalier comeback way at bay.
In the end, a rivalry that has been close as close can get, got a little less close tonight thanks to SU’s performance. The 18-18 series and the 466-466 goals a piece is no more, as the 10-goal win was SU’s largest margin of victory over Virginia EVER.
It’s amazing how much things can change in just six days, isn’t it?
The Orange will be back in action inside the Carrier Dome next Saturday, March 6 at 1 PM as they play host to the Vermont Catamounts for the first ever meeting between the two programs. That game will be seen on ACC Network Extra.
P.S. - what a day for Syracuse lacrosse