March 1, 2014

Penn Quickens the Pace, Upsets Denver in Comeback Fashion

by Corey McLaughlin | | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive

Penn faceoff man Danny Feeney finished just 9-for-18 on the day but won three in a row as the Quakers completed a fourth-quarter comeback over fourth-ranked Denver on Saturday afternoon at Franklin Field. (Andy Lewis)

PHILADELPHIA — It's been said that twins have a sixth sense about what the other is doing at a given moment. On Saturday, in front of the home crowd at historic Franklin Field, it was right there for everyone to see: Penn senior faceoff man Danny Feeney and his twin brother, goalie Brian Feeney, were busy fueling the Quakers' upset of Denver.

Despite finishing just 9-for-18 on the day, Danny came up with several big faceoff wins in the fourth quarter, and Brian denied a point-blank Denver try with less than a minute remaining as No. 19 Penn took down the fourth-ranked Pioneers 12-10 on a chilly afternoon in downtown Philadelphia.

After falling behind 5-1 at the end of the first quarter, Penn fired back with a 5-2 second quarter and its well-regarded defense held Denver's potent offense to five goals the rest of the game. The Quakers (2-1) eventually tied the score at eight with 4:45 left in the third and took their first lead with 8:32 left in the fourth.

Then they closed the deal, with Feeney winning three straight faceoffs in the final minutes, and his brother stoning Denver attackman Jack Bobzien on the crease, as he looked to put in a near-pipe shot after a series of fakes to cut down Penn's two-goal lead.

The Quakers, using three midfield lines, five attackmen, four close defenseman and two long-stick midfielders, appeared fresh down the stretch. Freshman attackman Kevin Brown, who even didn't start, led with three goals while Issac Bock and Nick Doktor canned two, and five others chipped in one. Danny Feeney finished with eight saves, so while he and his brother may have shined late, coach Mike Murphy said "It's hard to pick an MVP of that game. That's what we're trying to create."

"We don't try to overplay any guys," Murphy said. "We play a lot of people ... so we can be like that in the fourth quarter. That was re-assuring. It's a newer approach for us, and we've stuck to it. We talked about trying to build a championship level program and do everything the right way. This demonstrates that all the little things can end up resulting in something a little bit more significant."

Penn goalie Brian Feeney, Danny's twin, made a point-blank stop with less than a minute left. (Andy Lewis)

Denver, which falls to 3-2, came out on fire, even with sophomore faceoff man Joe Bano making his first career start. Denver's primary faceoff taker, Chris Hampton, did not play for undisclosed reasons. "We just didn't have him," Denver coach Bill Tierney said, but it actually played to the Pioneers' advantage as Bano finished 14-for-23.

Danny Feeney didn't have a scout on Bano and said it took about a half to settle in against him. Meanwhile, the Pioneers' knowns on offense — big scorer Wesley Berg, X-attackman Bobzien and freshman Zack Miller — combined for Denver's first five goals, flying around the crease as if on a string firing in close range shots. Bobzien finished with three goals and two assists, Miller three goals and Berg two.

But the result pivoted on the second quarter. Penn darted around the field, outshooting Denver 13-8 and evening out the ground ball battle a bit after Denver won 11 to Penn's four in the first quarter. Denver had four turnovers in the second, some of them on purely misfired passes in six-on-six sets and Penn converted on 2 of 4 extra-man chances. Other times, in the second quarter and throughout the game, Penn defenders won several back-up battles on missed shots, Tierney estimated five of those; a key stat that doesn't appear in the box score. Denver missed the cage 14 times.

"We lost this game in the second quarter. We allowed it to get to their pace instead of our pace," Tierney said. "The first quarter is exactly how we play. For some reason in the second quarter — there were some penalties; we were three-men down, two-men down — it gets you out of sorts, and we just didn't respond... This has been one of the M.O.'s of our team right now. When we need them to be most calm, we get frenetic, and that's not our style... There were some bad decisions by some of our better players today." 

Penn's defense, which allowed a Division I-best 7.38 goals per game all of last season, made some slight adjustments that only a group as familiar as it can. Brian Feeney said chemistry built up over the years with seniors Reid Tutor and Maxx Meyer and junior Matt McMahon made it easy for them to regroup. After the first quarter, Murphy had some choice words for the entire team and the defense responded initially by defending better around goal-line extneded. There were also adjustments made at halftime.

"The guys really did it on their own," Murphy said. "We slid a little less. They had been getting the ball to the backside. [Denver] dodges to draw more than they dodge to shoot. We extended out a little bit more, too, but nothing major."

For the most part, Denver limited one of Penn's other trademarks, transition offense from its two-way midfielders, but when the Quakers got it, the bench erupted with emotion. With nine seconds before halftime, Losco picked off a pass in the defensive end, sprinted downfield and fed Bock on the crease for a goal with two seconds left before halftime to cut Denver's lead to 7-6.

Later, five minutes into the fourth, a Jeremy Noble shot was blocked and quickly, Doktor fed ahead to attackman Jeff Puckette for his only goal of the game to tie the score at nine 5:24 into the final quarter. Denver had been leading 8-6 after Miller scored less than a minute into the second half.

"The offense picked it up," Murphy said. "The fact that we were getting punched in the mouth, and we decided to fight back, twice really, down 5-1 and then 8-6 and tied at 9, we just never stopped fighting."

"[Denver's] a 6-on-6 team," Danny Feeney said, relaying the scouting report heading into the game. "They started making faster plays than what we had seen on film, slow and composed. Once we were neck-and-neck, they started to speed up their game and tried to go as fast as we were going, but we've been practicing fast play for two years now."

The result could be a very important one for both teams come NCAA tournament selection and seeding time, with expanded 18-team field, but what's expected to be a small bubble. It's only March 1 and there's a lot of lacrosse to be played but, for example, Penn and Denver have both lost to Duke already this season, with Penn now holding a head-to-head win over the Pioneers.

"This is big for us, for whatever may happen in May for Selection Sunday," Brian Feeney said. "It's going to be a quality win. [But] we don't try to dwell on this game. Our goal for this season is not just to beat Denver, the goal is to win the Ivy League. Right now, we're looking at Villanova [on Saturday], that's another game that can help us in May in case we don't come up with the Ivy. After that, our mind is set on going 6-0 in the Ivy League."

Meanwhile, Denver faces a tough upcoming stretch of games back home in Colorado.

"It's a tough loss, because you need to get all these," Tierney said, "but [we] got a lot of games coming up. We got three huge ones coming up with Notre Dame and Penn State in a three-day span and then Ohio State. We'll see what we're made of."

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