March 25, 2012

Villanova Upsets Orange, 11-10 in Carrier Dome

by Chris Iseman | | Live Blog Replay

Villanova's Dan Gutierrez made 12 saves, including two in the final minute to preserve the Wildcats' 11-10 win over Syracuse Saturday in the Carrier Dome.
© John Strohsacker/ 

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The contrast in emotions could not have been more evident.

As Syracuse head coach John Desko spoke at a press conference following his team's 11-10 loss to Villanova on Sunday, three of his players sat to his left staring straight ahead, blank expressions on their faces.

When the Orange finished, Villanova entered the room riding a high that will last all the way back to Philadelphia. The Wildcats knocked off Syracuse on its home turf. It did so with a gritty performance that put its mental toughness to the test and the Wildcats passed with flying colors.

"To beat a team like Syracuse at the Carrier Dome is about a big a win as we've ever had in our program," Villanova head coach Mike Corrado said. "Considering the way we lost our last two games, to come up here and do what we did, we're extremely proud of our guys. We just never gave up today."

The No. 14 Wildcats (5-3, 1-0 Big East) held the No. 9 Orange (4-3, 2-1) to just three second-half goals while it went on a scoring barrage in the third quarter with four scores of their own en route to the one-goal victory in front of 3,811 fans inside the Carrier Dome. Villanova handed Syracuse its first ever conference loss since the Big East formed a league in 2010, and did so in a way that created even more questions about where the Orange stands at the midway point of its season.

Jack Rice, Will Casertano and Kevin O'Neil each had two goals for the Wildcats, with Casertano scoring two of Villanova's final three goals, including the final one that put them up 11-9 with 10:11 left in the fourth quarter. Kevin Cunningham added three assists.

Villanova goaltender Dan Gutierrez (12 saves) was an absolute force between the pipes, getting better as the game progressed. The Wildcats had lost their last two games to Princeton and Maryland by a combined 12 goals, and Gutierrez said Villanova was focused on ending the skid.

"It happens as a goalie. When you let in one, you just have to have a short memory about it," Gutierrez said. "We've really just focused on focusing throughout the whole game. Keeping focused kind of helped me get back my confidence and stick with it."

After Syracuse's Luke Cometti scored unassisted with 5:05 left to make it a one-goal game, Gutierrez made two huge saves in the final minute of play as the Orange was gunning for a transition goal that would have tied the game at 11. But Syracuse failed to do what Desko has been pleading with his scorers to do all season, change the level of their shots. Time and again, they shot high into the cage, right at Gutierrez' eye level where he could make a quality save.

First, it was Orange midfielder JoJo Marasco, who sprinted through the offensive zone in transition, but shot high right into Gutierrez' stick. A few seconds later, Syracuse freshman defender Brandon Mullins broke free up top for a rare attempt at a score.

Like Marasco, he shot high, perfect for Gutierrez and he made the save with 27 seconds left. Then, in the final seconds, Orange goalie Dominic Lamolinara made a save and launched a pass the length of the field to redshirt senior Tim Desko, but Desko could not get a shot off.

John Desko said after the game he never wants to take credit away from the goaltender, but the frustration over his players refusing to change the plane of their shots to keep Gutierrez guessing was clear.

"Although we talked about changing the plane on our shots, I found it pretty amazing that we kept shooting high and not changing the plane on him," Desko said. "We work on that, we talk about it, we show it on film, and we still do it anyway, so I don't understand it."

The Orange took a 7-5 lead into halftime, and appeared to hold all the momentum. But then the Wildcats reeled off three straight goals. Syracuse responded with two straight, but Villanova answered back with three in a row.

The entire contest was a stark contrast to last season's game between these two teams, which was a sloppy, turnover-filled defensive battle that saw the Orange score with six seconds left in regulation for a 5-4 win.

This year, both teams played fast up and down the field. There was no stalling, and it was clear offense was going to decide the result, not defense.

"Last year, it was a defensive battle," Rice said. "There just wasn't much offense, it was a low-scoring game. I think today, the fans enjoyed watching the game a little more. There was a lot of scoring compared to last year."

Lamolinara made 11 saves in the game, but the 11 he let in the cage were too much for the Orange to overcome. Tom Palasek led the Orange offensively with two goals and two assists.

Villanova came up to Syracuse and did what it's been looking to do for a while. It beat the Orange and earned a program-defining win in a season that might have it knocking on the door for a Big East championship.

"Last year, it was a heartbreaker that we lost with the couple seconds left," Rice said. "The year before, it wasn't that close. So to come up here and beat the on their own field is huge for our program and something we can build on if we continue to play well."

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