In sports, the emotional toll of a close outcome is remarkable. It’s difficult to quantify and describe, yet the sinking feeling of a close loss or relieved elation of a last-second victory is familiar to anyone involved in sports.
That relieved elation flew freely in the air at Vidas Field April 5, when the Drexel men’s lacrosse team conquered the Pennsylvania State University Nittany Lions 13-12 in an exhausting triple-overtime thriller.
Senior midfielder Ben McIntosh started the scoring with a goal two minutes into the game and then responded to a goal by Penn State’s Dan Craig with two more of his own in the first quarter, which ended deadlocked at 3-3.
Then the Nittany Lions bared their teeth.
From the four-minute mark in the half until the buzzer mercifully sounded to indicate halftime, Penn State scored five goals to transform a 7-4 Drexel lead to a 9-7 deficit for the Dragons.
Redshirt freshman attacker Cole Shafer put the Dragons on the board to start the second half — his first points in three games — and Drexel began to regain the composure it lost at the end of the first half. The Dragons scored three quick goals to take a one-goal lead before allowing Penn State to score two goals, ending the third quarter trailing 11-10.
Junior midfielder Ryan Belka scored early in the fourth quarter to bring the game to a draw before Penn State’s Pat Manley drilled one home past Drexel goalie Will Gabrielsen, giving the visitors a one-goal lead.
The next eight minutes of gameplay were tense. Drexel fans watched as their favorite team fired shot after shot but seemed unable to tie the game up. As time wound down, the Dragons had the ball in the Penn State zone. McIntosh received the ball in scoring position and was finally able to satiate the fans’ requests for one more goal to even the game at 12-12 and send it into overtime.
Two minutes into the first overtime period, Drexel sophomore Jules Raucci almost snagged his one shining moment. His shot managed to make it past the Penn State defense before unluckily hitting the post, a solid scoring chance deflected away.
The game continued on, mostly dominated by Drexel, but the Dragons remained unable to capitalize on their chances.
With less than a minute remaining in the third overtime, Drexel junior attacker Mitch De Snoo picked up a ground ball in the offensive zone, charged toward the Penn State goal, and buried his shot in the back of the net to give the Dragons the 13-12 victory.
The stakes in the game were as high as they’ve been for both teams this season, with Penn State’s Colonial Athletic Association Tournament hopes in jeopardy coming into the game with a 4-5 season record and a 0-1 CAA record. On the flip side, the win against Penn State bolstered the Dragons’ claim to a spot in the conference tournament and possibly even an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
During head coach Brian Voelker’s four years with Drexel, the team is 37-23 overall and has made the CAA Tournament twice in the last three years. Two seasons ago the Dragons made it to the final game of the tournament, only to fall to a very good University of Massachusetts team and miss an opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament.
The Dragons have been close to finally making their way to the “Big Dance” during Voelker’s tenure only to finish each year disappointed.
A player particularly familiar with the team’s late-season losses is senior Ben McIntosh, who has spent his entire collegiate career under Voelker. He has blossomed into a force on the field, and it’s undeniable that more than anything, he wants a chance to showcase his talents on the biggest stage available.
This entire season, he’s shown the ability not only to be a leader to the team on a personal level but also to take the reins on offense and cause the Dragons’ opponents fits. In the game against Penn State, all of his talents were on display. He made crisp passes leading to opportunities for his teammates but also buried almost every chance he got. He finished the game with five goals on nine shots and three assists.
Last week, Shafer’s struggles seemed like a problem that could severely hinder the Dragons’ hopes of success in the postseason. But if McIntosh keeps playing at this level, the team could start former Philadelphia 76er Evan Turner at attacker and still compete with any team in the country.
When asked about the impact of the seniors on the team and their goals for the season, Voelker sounded confident in his fourth-year players.
“Our goal this year is to make the NCAA Tournament,” Voelker said. “It’s our goal every year, and we want to be the first to do it in Drexel’s history. Where we are, even having a chance at it, is a credit to the seniors. [McIntosh] and Jason [Klunder] have been great leaders, making sure everyone stays motivated and works hard and overall makes a positive impact on the program. We really want to make this year special.”
The victory Saturday brought the team’s record to 7-4, 2-1 in the CAA, good to leave them tied for second place in the conference.
The next two weeks bring them up against important in-conference competition in UMass and Towson University. A win in either of these games puts the team in a great position to make the CAA Tournament.
The Dragons play next against UMass April 12 at 4 p.m. at Vidas Field.