Faceoff play key in Army's win

SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- The Army men's lacrosse team is a very different team than the one that started its season with four losses in five games, and emphatically proved that with a 9-8 double-overtime win over second-seeded and two-time defending national champion Syracuse in the biggest upset of the first round of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament. Devin Lynch scored the game-winning goal in the final seconds of the second overtime period from the top of the crease on an assist from junior attackman Jeremy Boltus.

Army's early-season skid included overtime losses at Cornell and Air Force. Since then, this Army team has won twice in overtime and posted three one-goal victories in regulation.

"I'll say our recent history had us believing that we were going to win. I think we probably had a little advantage at that point," Army head coach Joe Alberici said. "We talked about this, that it didn't matter if we lost by 25 tonight, people would tell us we had a great season and that was dangerous. When you went into overtime, I think the pressure turns to Syracuse a little bit."

The game-winning goal came on a cross-crease pass from Boltus to Lynch, after midfielder Rob McCallion started the play behind the net and worked to the right side of Syracuse goalie John Galloway in an inverted set. An exchange from McCallion to Boltus also served as a pick, and Lynch broke from the weakside to the front of the net and converted the quick pass. Lynch's game-winning goal will be remembered as the clincher, but his first of the night was almost as important. He scored with one second remaining in the second quarter and made the score 6-4 at halftime.

Army seized momentum and worked its way back into the game in the third quarter. Faceoff specialist Derek Sipperly and wings Tim Henderson and Brendan Butler controlled the X. They won all four third-quarter draws and the crucial draw in the final minute of the second quarter that set up Lynch's first of the night. Sipperly was just 1-for-5 on faceoffs in the regular-season meeting against Syracuse, but turned that around with an 11-for-17 performance Sunday night. Henderson and Butler each picked up six ground balls in the game, and worked well on the midfield battles.

"I had previous confidence coming into this game because I had faced off against them earlier. Even though I only got a few draws in the first game, this game I had confidence coming into it and felt I could win," Sipperly said. "Hard work, wing play, that's what did it for us."

The Orange were limited to just two goals in the second half. Cody Jamieson's third of the game gave Syracuse a 7-4 lead before Sean O'Sullivan and Garrett Thul tallied goals in the third quarter for Army. While the Black Knights dominated possession, Syracuse's defense played well and Galloway helped Cuse maintain its advantage with six third-quarter saves.

Syracuse opened the fourth quarter with a goal from Stephen Keogh to build a two-goal lead, but Thul scored with 9:39 remaining and Boltus scored the game-tying goal with 6:49 to play. The Orange were 0-for-3 on man-up opportunities while Army converted two of three chances.

Orange fans assembled a sign that stretched between Sections 116 and 117 of the Carrier Dome that read "Masters of Memorial Day." While that moniker might be accurate for the 11-time national champions, it takes three wins before Memorial Day to earn that opportunity. Syracuse was bounced in the first round for only the second time in program history, and it was Syracuse's second loss on its home field in NCAA tournament history in 24 games.

Syracuse is at its best when it scores in bunches, and Army limited those opportunities. The Orange's biggest run was three straight goals late in the first quarter and early in the second quarter. When Syracuse scored back-to-back tallies in quick succession -- 31 seconds separated Jamieson's two first-quarter goals, and also second-quarter goals from Kevin Drew and Jovan Miller -- Army answered within three minutes each time. The three-goal run in the second gave Syracuse a 5-1 lead, but Army turned the game around with its faceoff dominance.

Defensively, Army's Bill Henderson matched up against Syracuse middie Chris Daniello, and held Daniello off the scoreboard. Sam Harrison drew the defensive assignment on Jamieson. Henderson also made a key defensive play by racing to back up Syracuse's wide shot in the second overtime and turn possession for the Black Knights. That was Syracuse's only shot of the overtime periods. Goalie Tom Palesky made 13 saves, including five in the first quarter that prevented Syracuse from running away early. Syracuse had 19 turnovers in the game.

"They followed their game plan to perfection really, that's pretty much it. We didn't really stay composed and run our offense the way we know we can," Jamieson said. "They knew who we were and I think they scouted us really well. Their defense played incredible. I think as an offense, as a whole, maybe the game got a little tight there. Maybe we were gripping the sticks too tight there, and I think a couple guys forced things a little bit. The offense as a whole, we didn't execute the way we thought we were going to."

The Black Knights (11-5) will face Cornell in the quarterfinal round of the tournament Sunday at Stony Brook, and even though the Big Red came out with a 12-11 overtime victory in the regular-season meeting, they too will know that this is a different Army team.

Joe Gladziszewski is an editor of InsideCollegeHockey.com.