The dashboard thermostat of the Acura TL says the outside temperature is 28 degrees. The Mountainhawks’ turf field is in the middle of a wind tunnel, making “real feel” about 20 (my non-meteorologist guess).
After half of the first quarter, my pen ink is freezing dry, my hands are numb, and a slight shake pulses throughout my bones. I take to the phone, but numb thumbs and a fast-paced sport don’t mix well when attempting to take notes. Speaking into the phone is a no-go due to the crowd.
Despite the freezing climate, the stands were packed tight. Snow had been shoveled aside and spectators took to sitting on the metal bleachers despite wet and cold.
The first seven minutes of the game seemed as though momentum was behind Lehigh. All tied at one and neither team very pressing on offense. Nova’s defense played aggressively throughout the entire game, and Lehigh’s D-unit seemed quiet but effective.
Everything shifted from that point on. The Cats traveled to Bethlehem, PA prepared for a battle. They had a strong moving offense and, as stated, an aggressive defense.
Villanova senior Remington Pope (#77, SSDM) played like white on rice, covering the ball with accurate stick checks, perfect hit/lift technique, and caused numerous turnovers in clutch situations when Nova needed them most.
Stellar defensive players also included senior Christopher Conroy (#27, defense), sophomore John Moderski (#24, defense) and junior Christian Kolderup (#25, defense).
On the offensive side of the Cats, junior Eric Gartner (#15, Midfield) carried himself with stylish lacrosse swag, throwing enthusiastic dodges and sniper shots on goal. In one pivotal play, he gave Villanova its first lead of the game, pulling a sick one-handed face dodge from up top, swinging down right and shooting a sniper into the top left to make it 2-1.
Aiding Gartner in offensive efforts were freshman Austin Frederick (#8, Midfield), freshman Devin McNamara (#4, Attack) and senior Kevin O’Neil (#6, Attack).
Lehigh had no offensive movement and basic subbing confusion. No one was moving off ball, setting picks, or rotating the defense. There were loads of communication from the sidelines and little reflection of it on the field.
Mountainhawks’ defense was a poor show, as well. Following the first seven minutes and once Nova found their groove, the defense had no answers to the offensive pressure the Cats brought.
The game headed into halftime with Nova winning 3-1.
Halfway into the third quarter, the score was tied up at 3-3. I had gone to my car for the 10 minute halftime to survive hypothermic elements.
There had been an early momentum shift in Lehigh’s favor. At 3:30 in the third the score was 5-3 Lehigh and Hawks goalie Matt Poillon (#30) charged out of the crease and was aided by another defender in wrecking a Cats attackman who was taking a shot.
Both Poillon and the defending teammate would serve 30 second penalties for the hits, and backup goalie Steve Brodeur would see some action. However, Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese made a smart move and called a time out to kill off some penalty time.
Following the timeout, Lehigh defender Dylan O’Shaughnessy (#28) took the ball to the cage and scored on Dan Willis (#2), making the score 6-3.
Villanova’s Austin Frederick returned the favor with a sniper from right-side goal-line-extended which was closely followed by two goals. The second goal came from Devin McNamara (#4); tied the game up at 6-6 with 11:21 to go in the fourth quarter.
Then, Pope (#77) had another one of his ‘clutch’ plays, fully lifting his opponent into the air and stripping the ball loose. He snatched the rock and put the pedal to the metal downfield. Nova called a timeout, then played out the remaining 10 seconds.
SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME
By this point, all the spectators were physically shaking in their boots. I had lost feeling in my feet approximately 10 minutes before the end of regulation. I had two hot chocolates in me that were freezing on the way from the cup to my mouth.
Villanova won the faceoff but the ball was scooped up by Lehigh. A Hawk midfielder took the ball to the crease and was one-on-one with Nova goalie Willis. Willis stuffed the heck out of the offender and quickly evaded return pressure.
The ball would continue to go back and forth for the other 3:30 of the four minute overtime without much action or momentum. Both teams were waiting for their chances that never came.
SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME 2
Now, I’m thinking no matter the outcome of this overtime, if it continues beyond I’m leaving to avoid hypothermia.
Though Lehigh’s face off midfielders were having a day of poor performances and early movement violations, Matt Risk (#45) won the ball and activated a Mountainhawk fast break.
A midfielder took the ball down the right wing and dove for the goal. He made the shot, but the referees had blown the whistle just moments before killing the play.
SUDDEN DEATH OVERTIME 3
That was nuts! I had to stay now.
Lehigh was increasing their communication and responses at this point. Things were flowing better and there was more organization with subbing. Players were rotating frequently and there were always fresh legs on the field.
Villanova’s #77 Pope had taken a liking to Lehigh’s Kurtis Kaunas (#5, M/A). While other Mountainhawks froze in place not wanting to take on #77, Kaunas accepted the challenge every time.
Kaunas split dodged to the left and down the wing. Then, he cut straight to the cage, dove forward and got the ball into the net. Lehigh victory 7-6. The team rushes the field.
These were some of the most unorganized referees I have seen in recent memory. They made thousands of calls, many of which were questionable. As a spectator put it, “They’re cold too. They just want to move and be included in this weather.”
After a faceoff and having no possession yet, the referees allotted Lehigh a timeout. Then, when Villanova lost the argument of it, the referees called it short and Nova had no time to talk.
It was as if there were no timeout limits. Lehigh asked for approximately 15 all game, and were granted each one.
The officials poorly managed the shot clock and only called offensive stalling two or three times. Back and forth exchanges of aggressive play were overlooked, then one or two randomly called out of nowhere.
There were obvious calls that were missed (such as blatant warding), but other legal plays blown dead for what seemed to be made up reasons.