March 1, 2013

Orange Reboots Season, Downs Virginia in Overtime

by Mark Cooper | | Live Blog Replay

Syracuse handed Virginia its first loss of the season on Friday night at the Carrier Dome, despite the Cavaliers winning 16-of-21 faceoffs.
© Greg Wall

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Kevin Rice dropped to the turf on one knee as the Syracuse sideline engulfed him like a tidal wave. With one shot, one rocket from a couple yards left of the goal, the sophomore attackman brought new life and energy to a Syracuse team in need of a statement win.

After an inauspicious start to its season, Syracuse returned to prestigious form in dramatic fashion. Two weeks after losing in double-overtime to Albany for the first time in school history, the Orange found an overtime hero in Rice, and defeated longtime rival Virginia 9-8 at the Carrier Dome.

"I think we grew up a lot today," Syracuse coach John Desko said.

No. 18 Syracuse (2-1) used Rice's winner to hand sixth-ranked Virginia (4-1) its first loss of the season. Virginia won eight of 10 meetings between these teams prior to Friday, but was upset by an Orange team that appears to have fully recovered from losing its season opener.

The game was hallmarked by the defenses on both ends of the field: Syracuse brought a physicality and aggression that knocked Virginia out of its comfort zone, and Virginia's zone defense frustrated the Orange into playing a slow-paced, patient style of attack.

Tortuous patience became bliss with one quick shot from Rice.

"I don't have words for it," he said. "I've been watching Syracuse-Virginia my entire life, I grew up a half hour away from here and to be a part of a game like that is really special to me."

For Virginia, the loss was disappointing, particularly because of the Cavaliers' inability to capitalize offensively. After scoring at least 13 goals in each of its first four games, Virginia could not solve Syracuse's defense, despite winning 16-of-21 faceoffs.

Virginia coach Dom Starsia called the Cavaliers' offense a work in progress.

"We need to continue to improve to be the team that we want to be as we move on," Starsia said.

Megill anchored a stingy Orange defense that hit Virginia's attack in the mouth on more than a few occasions, fueling a back-and-forth affair highlighted by the lack of scoring.

The senior defender drew the assignment of covering Virginia attack Mark Cockerton, who entered with 17 goals in three games. Cockerton scored two goals in the first quarter Friday, but never found the back of the net again.

Multiple times, Cockerton tried to spin or juke past Megill, looking for the slightest opening to fire his shot. On one occasion, when his spin move worked, and Cockerton had an open run to the net, Megill knocked the ball out of Cockerton's stick from behind.

"He's a really big player," Cockerton said of Megill. "He's probably the best defender I've ever played against in my life. Definitely the biggest."

On the other end of the field, after an efficient first quarter, Syracuse's offense got stagnant. Starsia made an early adjustment to his defense, switching from man-to-man to zone. It forced Syracuse to be more patient and the Orange struggled. Virginia shut out Syracuse in the second quarter as the Cavaliers scored three unanswered goals to take a 6-4 lead into the locker room.

Syracuse struck back with three goals in the third and one early in the fourth quarter, but that all evaporated when Virginia scored two goals in 44 seconds early in the fourth to tie the game at eight.

Virginia senior Charlie Streep shed defender Brandon Mullins and fired a low shot that deflected off goaltender Bobby Wardwell into the net with 12:20 left. Less than a minute later, attackman Matt White ran down the left side and finished his 10th goal of the season to tie it.

The final 10 minutes of regulation turned into a frenzy.

Bodies flew everywhere. Syracuse midfielder JoJo Marasco stuck Virginia defender Tanner Scales like a linebacker. SU defender David Hamlin came up with a huge hit on Cockerton near the goal. The Orange couldn't get a shot off.

That defensive intensity continued in overtime as Syracuse prevented a goal after Virginia won the opening faceoff.

Starsia said after the game that this was a good early-season matchup between two teams that will likely still have an opportunity to compete for a title later in the season.

He may be right. But Syracuse certainly needed this game. That much was obvious by the mad rush onto the field, the swarming of Rice, the gloves and sticks flying into the air in celebration.

It was a breath of fresh air.

"It was amazing," Megill said. "To get that final goal, especially after losing to Albany in double overtime. It feels like you just won a national championship."

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