Drexel midfielder Nick Saputo is much more at home doing the dirty work of collecting ground balls rather than scoring goals.
But as halftime approached Sunday in Drexel's clash with neighborhood rival Penn in the first round of the NCAA Division I lacrosse tournament, the sluggish Dragons trailed the Quakers, 6-4.
Saputo helped provide the shot in the arm the Dragons needed, scoring two of the Dragons' three goals in the final 17 seconds of the first half as Drexel took control of the game. The Dragons stole the momentum from the higher-seeded Quakers, played with more energy in the second half, and advanced to the quarterfinals with a 16-11 victory.
Jules Raucci scored the first goal in that 17-second stretch for the Dragons.
Unseeded Drexel (13-4) will face Denver (15-2) in the quarterfinals Sunday at 2:30 p.m. in Newark, Del.
"He was huge," Drexel coach Brian Voelker said of Saputo. "We didn't play really well against Penn in the first half. What he did kind of deflated them."
Saputo scored three of his six goals this season against the Quakers. He is, however, much more accustomed to doing the other things for Drexel, which has won nine games in a row and finds itself one win away from the Final Four. He leads the team by a large margin with 163 ground balls. Matt Dusek is second with 48.
"I just took advantage of the opportunity that presented itself and fortunately for us it worked out," the junior from Huntington, N.Y., said. "It gave us a shot in the arm, and we carried it into the second half. But now we're looking ahead at what's in front of us. We want to keep on winning and moving on."
After beating a Penn team with a much richer lacrosse history, Saputo and his teammates find themselves in a similar situation against No. 5 seed Denver. This is the Pioneers' fifth consecutive appearance in the tournament. Winners of 12 straight games, the Pioneers have reached the Final Four in two of the last three seasons.
"They are going to be a challenge," Saputo said. "They get up and down the field, and they score. It's going to be a test for us. But we're confident that we can play with anybody in the country. We are a confident team."
NCAA Lacrosse Quarterfinal
Denver vs. Drexel
Sunday at 2:30 p.m., Delaware Stadium, Newark, Del.
Records: Denver 15-2, Drexel 13-4.
Coaches: Denver, Bill Tierney, 65-22 in five seasons at Denver, 337-115 overall, six NCAA titles in 30 seasons; Drexel, Bill Voelker, 50-27 in five seasons at Drexel, 92-78 overall in 12 seasons.
Series: This is the third meeting in the series and each team has won once. Last meeting: March 24, 2009, a 9-8 Drexel win.