IT TOOK just 11 seconds for the tone of Drexel's first NCAA lacrosse tournament game to change drastically. The Dragons used a ferocious late first-half run that carried over into an outstanding second half to pummel Penn, 16-11, at Franklin Field yesterday.
It all started when Drexel's Jules Raucci put a shot in the top left corner past Penn goalie Brian Feeney with 17 seconds left in the first half to pull the Dragons within 6-5. Midfielder Nick Saputo won the ensuing face off cleanly, sprinted down into the offensive zone and buried a shot with 12 seconds left on the clock to tie it.
He jogged right back to midfield to take the next faceoff. In the same fashion as just seconds before, he buried another bounce shot to put Drexel up at the half, 7-6, a lead it would not relinquish for the rest of the afternoon.
"By that time I was realizing what the other team was doing," Saputo said. "I was trying to figure out the best strategy and that was the one I felt was best and was working out so I continued with it. It worked out."
Saputo became the unlikely hero for Drexel on the offensive end. He had scored just three goals on the season coming into the game, but managed to score three against Penn. Those goals energized the team and enabled the Dragons to carry the momentum out for the rest of the game.
"It totally turned things around," Drexel coach Brian Voelker said. "I think Penn totally outplayed us in the first half. I was hoping that we could go into halftime down one, and he turned the thing around and really made the momentum turn from one side to the other very quickly."
"He had half of his goals on the year in a 5-minute span against us," Penn coach Mike Murphy said. "Credit to him, the kid made some plays. He was tough facing off."
Saputo's presence was even more noticeable at the faceoff circle, where he has been the go-to guy all year. After splitting the faceoff battle in the first half, Saputo and the Dragons won 17 of the next 21 to ensure they had the possession edge needed to wear down Penn's tough defense and propel Drexel to a 7-0 run spanning about 7 minutes of game action.
"That was it," Murphy said. "We were up 6-4 and they scored seven straight, that was the difference in the game. We never really recovered. A lot of that was due to their faceoff guy. We did not respond either by winning faceoffs or getting stops or scoring."
"Nick has been a beast," Voelker said. "There might be one game where he was below 50 percent for us this year. You don't expect him to score three goals. I expect that kind of effort. He is one of the hardest workers on our team. You see his intensity out there on the field."
Penn was led offensively by sophomore Nick Doktor, who had three goals and dished out an assist. Drexel also got a hat trick from senior Ben McIntosh, his 46th goal on the season, which broke a school record.
Drexel has a week to wait until their first NCAA quarterfinals appearance. They take on fifth-seeded Denver, who took down North Carolina, at the University of Delaware next Sunday.