Mustangs Prevail Despite Costly Penalty Trouble
|Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene
drew two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls and the Mustangs racked up
11 penalties totaling 8:30 in a 16-14 win.
© Greg Wall
PHILADELPHIA — During its final push to win the first men's lacrosse national championship in school history on Sunday, Stevenson University absorbed the best shots that RIT offered, and the Mustangs took the hard way in general.
In the end, the Mustangs overcame themselves as much as the Tigers at Lincoln Financial Field, where, before 22,511 witnesses, Stevenson took a 16-14 decision in the Division III final.
The Mustangs dominated early by scoring the game's first five goals. But there would be nothing easy about this historic victory, which required Stevenson to erase a 13-10 deficit after three quarters. Part of that was due to RIT scoring weapons, such as Kyle Aquin, who tied a Division III final record with seven goals.
Much of it fell on the Mustangs, who somehow managed to survive a whopping 11 penalties — totaling 8:30 — and the 10 man-down situations they produced.
Oh, did the flags fly on behalf of the Mustangs. Six times, Stevenson was whistled for one-minute violations, including three unsportsmanlike conduct fouls, two of which were on head coach Paul Cantabene. RIT responded in kind by converting on four of 10 extra-man chances.
On top of that, the Mustangs committed three faceoff violations before the end of the first quarter, giving RIT extra-man chances throughout the second quarter. It all combined to fuel a Tigers comeback. Over the course of the second and third quarters, RIT out-scored Stevenson, 12-4. Four of those RIT were extra-man scores.
Not even a seven-save third quarter by Mustangs freshman goalie Dimitri Pecunes (15 saves total) could stem the tide, as the Tigers dropped seven scores on 16 shots to take a 13-10 lead on Stevenson heading into the fourth period.
"I was joking before we came in [to the postgame interview session]," said senior attackman Tyler Reid, who contributed a goal and two assists to the big win. "I led the game in penalty minutes. I was serving [Cantabene's] minutes, and I served our faceoff minutes."
Ultimately, Stevenson simply refused to be denied, and the Mustangs, who were led by attackman Mark Pannenton's five goals, asserted their talent when it counted most.
Stevenson pushed back by scoring six, fourth-quarter goals, including five unanswered scores in the first 4:29 of the period. Nick Rossi followed Pannenton's final goal to tie the game at 13-13, and Rossi's second score gave the Mustangs a 16-14 cushion with 5:07 left. All of the momentum seemingly was back with Stevenson.
Yet, on this day, the Mustangs would have to make the homestretch difficult on themselves. With 1:14 left, RIT regained possession and called timeout, and Stevenson attackman Chris Dashiell was whistled for offsides. As the teams formed their respective timeout huddles, Cantabene made his disagreement known regarding the offsides call, and the coach drew his second unsportsmanlike conduct call.
That left Stevenson in the precarious position of being two men down, with a national title on the line. It also gave Pecunes time to make the most heroic stop of the game. He ate up a 12-yard shot by RIT midfielder Eddie Kiesa. With that, the Tigers were done, and the Mustangs had nailed down a hard-fought championship.
"I'm not going to comment on the officiating. The game was called the way it was. I didn't think I said anything out of the ordinary, but they called me on it," Cantabene said.
"I told [the players], 'Hey fellas. This one is on me. Bail me out. I screwed up.' Maybe I shouldn't have said anything. I actually felt great shame. But Dimitri looked me in the face and said, 'I'm going to make that save.' Sometimes players have to bail out the coach."