From the Bleachers

From the Bleachers

 

 

 

From the Bleachers: One Game

 

The 2014 iteration of the Drexel Dragons Men’s Lacrosse team is making a statement and perhaps will prove to be a team of destiny. Last Friday night in North Carolina this group of Dragonlaxers took on a hot High Point team, one that was leading it’s Atlantic Sun Conference (and in the meantime has earned a place in that league’s championship game), and took care of business. The 11-8 score was not indicative of the actual game as Drexel dominated from the get-go and let in two goals in the last 30 seconds. What mattered, however, was not the score, but the result. We won. We won on the road. We won a game we were supposed to win. Championship teams find a way to win out of conference games in someone else’s house.

            Yesterday, all the hard work that earned our team a 10-4 regular season record and home field advantage for the CAA semi final came to a head. We had to face our nemesis, the defending CAA Champion, a team that ruined our hopes and dreams last season in brutal abruptness. A team that we beat just a couple Saturdays ago, on their turf, in their spectacular stadium, on their senior night. A team who wanted to play in the swimming pool that was Vidas Field on Wednesday night because they knew the ridiculous conditions would slow down our offensive juggernaut and blind our goalie in the monsoon. I’m talking about the Towson Tigers, of course.

            After checking out of their hotel Towson was forced to sleep in New Jersey and fight flood (literally) traffic on Thursday to get to the game. They were mad. And their coach played on it, holding them in the locker room until just two minutes before the national anthem and face off. Their Head Coach, Shawn Nadelen, another Johns Hopkins alum and former teammate of our Head Coach Brian Voelker, used all the leverage he had. And in the time between our first game and this one he did what his title suggests, he coached. Towson took their time on offense, patiently waiting for the exact shot they wanted from the exact player they wanted taking shots. He said in the press this past week he wanted his team to have “better shot placement” and he put his players in a position to do so. Give Towson credit, because for over three quarters they had us right where they wanted us, up 9-6 with nine minutes to go in the game. With each possession taking up to three minutes, their formula was working.

            Right before the opening face off the CAA announced it’s league All Stars. Matt Dusek, our defensive ground ball machine, Ryan Belka, our consistent dodger and shooter, Nick Saputo, our dominant face off specialist, Nick Trizano our catalyst and goal scorer at X and Player of the Year “Big Ben” McIntosh, all were honored with First Team selections. They proved the selection committee of CAA coaches (who could not vote for their own players) correct.

            In particular, Saputo played one of the best games at the X in playoff history, going 19-22 during the contest. If you want to know what it means to “put on an All American performance” then you either saw it or need to see the tape. Ditto for our big guy, the senior from Western Canada, who proved POY honors mean something.

            Our WPF guys stand behind the goalie net, as you probably know from the cheering (and sometimes heckling), and when Big Ben took a lefty shot (he’s a natural righty) that bounced wildly over the cage when the score was 9-6, Towson Goalie Tyler White laughed out loud. It was clear and it was arrogant. Maybe that sparked the Fire. Or was it the Towson bench mocking us with our own cheer (electronic Ba-Ba-Ba-Bada-Ba-Ba-Bop) during the game when they scored?

            All this writer can tell you is that in sports you can push a beast into a corner only so long. And with minutes ticking off the clock, the season coming to an end, and the careers of McIntosh and his fellow seniors facing the same horror former stars Church and Prosser faced exactly a year ago, something had to give. Give up or expose the fangs and claws of a champion.

            The clock struck midnight for Towson as Big Ben took control. With 9:17 to play McIntosh jammed one in to make it 9-7, unassisted. With 3:35 to go, McIntosh again unassisted, 9-8. 2:47 to go freshman sensation Cole Shafer catches the ball in traffic via Belka, weaves through a titanium buzzsaw, and rocks the net to tie the game, his fourth goal of the contest.

            McIntosh isn’t finished, and with 2:14 to go he blasts his fourth of day punching the twine to give Drexel a 10-9 lead.

            But the defending champs were not giving up. They finally win a face off and with just 1:20 left find a streaking attackman coming backdoor who puts the ball in the upper corner to force OT. BTW, we are thanking the pipe for that as a shot with 1 second to go rattled off the crossbar.

            In twenty or thirty years, or a hundred for that matter, the facts will be the facts and the results their proof. Overtime: First Teamer Saputo wins the face off, with the help of senior Defenseman Tyler Houchins who nabs the ground ball yet keeps his toes behind the line of the restraining box like an NFL wide receiver, and delivers it to our offense.

            Coach Voelker wisely calls a time out and Coach Chris Ford, our Offensive Coordinator, probably the most unheralded assistant coach in the sport today, calls a play Towson has never seen because we have never used it before. A double pick with First Team CAA middie Belka sweeping right-to-left (although he is a natural righty) to dodge or dish back to McIntosh who was setting the second pick.

            But McIntosh is plowed over by the Towson defender and Belka has no one to throw to so he takes control of the game, and our season, our seniors, our fans, and the city of Philadelphia for crying out loud, to roar down the left seam, somehow on the full sprint switching hands to get to his strong righty and whips the ball to the opposite low post—a near impossible shot in general—and under the circumstances a play that will stand in Drexel lore for ages.

            When the dust, and players equipment, settles, and the parents come out of their fetal positions in the stands, it is clear we live another day and that day will be in Hempstead, on Long Island, on Saturday night at 7pm. A Championship on the line.

            In 2008 Hofstra beat Drexel in overtime to win the CAA and in 2012 UMass crushed Drexel 18-12 in the CAA Final. “Third time is the charm” many say in quaint cliché fashion. But there is nothing quaint about this Dragonlax squad. They are breathing Fire as a Dragon should.

            Is this the year? We have the players, including CAA All Rookie Teamers Markel Nelson and Cole Shafer, and All Academic CAA Will Gabrielsen in the net. Tomorrow night we will find out.

            At stake is our first ever CAA Title and Automatic Qualifier to the Big Dance in the NCAA Championships. Good luck Dragonlaxers. Destiny is yours if you scratch and claw for it as you have all season. Breath Fire and torch the Dutchmen!

 

 

 

Anonymous Dragonlax Fan