The high-flying Penn State offense was outgunned by a determined Yale Lacrosse team in the second 2019 NCAA Lacrosse semifinal of the day. Here’s my breakdown.
2019 NCAA Lacrosse Semifinal Breakdown: Yale v. Penn State
How Yale won: To be honest, the fact that it was even a contested game in the fourth quarter speaks volumes to the resiliency of the Nittany Lions. Yale stormed out of the gates, scoring the first four goals of the game and ending up leading 10-2 by the end of the first quarter. It began 52 seconds into the game, when Jackson Morrill buried a feed from today’s lone captain, John Daniggelis. Less than a minute later, Yale struck again, and they kept piling it on from there. Penn State managed to get one back on an EMO opportunity, but the hits kept coming. Seven Bulldogs scored in the first period alone, with three (Morrill, Gaudet, and today’s superhero Matt Brandau) scoring twice. Yale’s ten goal outburst tied the NCAA Lacrosse semifinal record for goals in a single quarter, the previous having been set by Navy way back in 1976. In fact, the Bulldogs didn’t miss cage a single time in the first period, scoring 10-for-14 while hitting pipe once and getting saved twice.
Penn State didn’t back down. Despite the score differential, and despite having lost 10-13 faceoffs in the first, the Nittany Lions found a way to turn it on. Matt O’Keefe scored a beautiful backhanded goal on the Nittany Lions’ second EMO opportunity, and Gerard Arceri followed it up with a goal of his own nine seconds later, beating Ierlan and taking it straight down the middle of the defense. Despite coming into the 2019 NCAA Lacrosse semifinal with only five goals on the year, Arceri would end up putting up a hat trick today, despite generally getting outplayed by Ierlan throughout the day. His next goal came soon after, again 9 seconds after the faceoff, to answer Yale. Penn State’s shooting, once they began getting the shots off, proved a lot to handle for Bulldog goalie Jackson Starr, and the Nittany Lions buried seven of their first eight shots. Within the first six minutes of the second quarter, Penn State had closed the gap to just four goals. A goal by Ament brought them to within three. The final six minutes of the first half featured two defenses finally settling in, and the score remained 12-9.
The battle that raged in the third quarter was perhaps best defined by the faceoff X, where Ierlan and Arceri began a series of faceoffs lasting for upwards of twenty seconds, and the longest lasting over a minute. A Yale goal was answered by Arceri’s third goal, six seconds later. The third quarter began with a flurry, three goals in twenty-four seconds in the first part of the period, but then both teams settled into a five minute goal drought, a rarity in this game. By the end of the third quarter, the margin remain three goals in favor of Yale, who had started to lose their massive edge in shots and faceoff wins. With over 32,000 fans in attendance, many of them roaring in support of the locals, one started to see a path forward where Penn State overcame the massive hole they’d dug to win it. If any offense could rally from such a big deficit, it was Penn State.
Two things stood in their way, and neither was a piece that the Bulldogs had last year, despite their national championship. TD Ierlan proved too much to often overcome, as the Bulldogs would end up winning ⅔ of the faceoffs on the day. But perhaps the biggest story of the day was the dominating performance of freshman phenom Matt Brandau. The rookie went off for four goals in the final frame, tacking on an assist in the final frame to produce all five of the Bulldogs’ goals in the fourth and keep Yale’s lead steady. Brandau’s run pushed the lead up to seven for Yale, and, though Penn State eventually closed the gap to four, the Nittany Lions were never able to fully close the gap. In total, the Bulldogs had eleven goal scorers, scoring 21 times on 51 shots. Although Penn State came into the game as the nation’s top offense, one would’ve guessed that honor belonged to Yale with their performance.
What this means for Penn State: After a massively successful season that saw the Nittany Lions take the No. 1 seed and reach their first NCAA Lacrosse semifinal in program history, Penn State couldn’t find an answer for the defending champs once again. Gerard Arceri was wonderful this season, but couldn’t find a way to consistently win against Ierlan. However, plenty of good still happened. Grant Ament tied the record for total points in the NCAA Tournament with 25, and his 18 assists set the NCAA Tournament record for assists in a single tournament. Best of all for Penn State, Ament returns in 2020, along with a good chunk of the core of this team, including O’Keefe, Arceri, Dylan Foulds, Colby Kneese, and Jack Kelly. For Ament, he falls three points short of tying Lyle Thompson’s single-season points record, but still set the single-season record for assists, as well as the Penn State career assists record. Gaining experience on the largest stage in lacrosse is bound to help Penn State, who return the type of core that could make them a favorite to return again in 2020.
What this means for Yale: The Bulldogs have earned a shot to defend their title on Monday. Yale came into this game with a potent offense, but what they displayed today was on an entirely different level. Brandau, at least for today, stepped into the shoes that Ben Reeves filled last year, and his hot streak continuing Monday could be huge for Yale. Meanwhile, their already strong face-off numbers from last year have been shattered by the transfer of TD Ierlan, who could be the (pardon the pun) X-factor in the championship. Virginia did not show particularly balanced scoring today, and could struggle to deal with a Bulldogs team with this many legitimate threats. While Yale will look to clean up its defensive play (the 38 goals combined in this game set an NCAA Tournament record), the Bulldogs likely enter Monday as the betting favorite after today, despite being the lower-seeded squad on paper.
Player of the Game: One can argue that the key difference in Yale’s domination of this 2019 NCAA Lacrosse semifinal was Ierlan, and I wouldn’t blame you for choosing him. However, everybody expected this from Ierlan, and he did get outscored by Arceri 3-0. No, for my money, the MVP today has to be Brandau. The freshman dropped seven goals and an assist today, despite temporarily leaving the game with a sprained ankle (he was in a walking boot for the postgame presser). He produced throughout the game, but his fourth quarter performance is what sealed the game for the Bulldogs. Any time you can be a part of every single one of five fourth quarter goal for your team, you’re doing something right, and Brandau did a ton right today. The offense in general had an amazing day for Yale, but it’s Brandau that stood out today. He’s my MVP for today, in both games.