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Syracuse's Sam English

Syracuse Gets it Done in Epic Win Over Virginia

April 20, 2024
Wyatt Miller
Rich Barnes

It finally happened. After three overtime losses and even more fourth-quarter collapses, Syracuse, at last, got it done in the final minutes to beat a top team in the nation in its regular-season finale. The Orange toppled Virginia 18-17.

After Billy Dwan tied the game at 17 with an outrageous backwards heave with his long pole, Virginia's Anthony Ghobriel won the ensuing faceoff. He sprinted straight to goal, but missed the cage. Nobody was behind the net to back it up, giving SU an opportunity to take its first lead in over 12 minutes. Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany said he chose not to call a timeout because of the aggressive, up-tempo flow of the game.

Then Sam English took matters into his own hands, despite being 0-for-5 prior to the game-winner. With 48 seconds remaining, English escaped a slew of defenders on the wing and found an open lane in the middle of the field, where he slotted it low past Matthew Nunes to give Syracuse an 18-17 lead. This was the first game in 2024 where Syracuse has been on the winning side of a fourth-quarter comeback.

“Guys made plays,” Syracuse head coach Gary Gait said. “We did everything we needed to this time, and that’s what we’ve been working on all year. Because in those same situations in some of our past games, we didn’t make the plays… Hopefully we turned a corner and we’ll be able to finish games consistently going forward.”

Scoring the final four goals to erase a three-point deficit in the final eight minutes, Syracuse did something it’s struggled to do all season: succeed in the clutch. In the end, two defensive stops in the span of 40 seconds sealed Syracuse’s first victory over Virginia since April 24, 2021.

On the final play, Tewaaraton Award nominee Connor Shellenberger, who had nine points, broke free at X and passed to McCable Millon. He was instantly run over by Dwan, and the ball went to Syracuse. But somehow, Nunes got the ball back on a heave down the field with a running interception, earning UVA one more shot to tie it. With the seconds ticking down, Will Mark came up with a huge save on Jack Boyden, and the stadium erupted as the ball was launched into the air.

Yet, it still wasn’t a “great 60 minutes,” Gait said. From 7:42 in the third to 9:18 in the fourth, the Cavaliers went on a 7-1 run that gave them a three-goal lead, but that’s when everything changed. Syracuse scraped a win using four different goal-scorers in the final minutes to win an instant-classic that will add to the already-storied history of this rivalry.

“These two teams have an incredible, rich history, and today we add to that,” said Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany. “Boy, what a game of runs, huh? Unfortunately, Syracuse had the last one.”

A “game of runs” is the perfect way to describe the newest installation of Syracuse-Virginia. There were six runs of at least three-straight goals for one team, the longest being six-straight Syracuse goals in an eight-and-a-half minute span during the first half.

Paul Gait getting number 19 jersey retired
Syracuse legend Paul Gait had his number 19 jersey retired at halftime of the game. He is just the fourth Syracuse lacrosse player to have their jersey retired, joining his brother, Gary, along with Michael Powell and Katie Rowan.
Rich Barnes

Gait said the back-and-forth action was reminiscent of “the old days.” There were tons of transition goals on both sides, and some of the game’s brightest stars flexed their skills in an offensive duel.

Most notably, Owen Hiltz led the way for Syracuse with eight points (3g, 5a), while three Orange players earned three points: Finn Thomson (3g), Christian Mule (3g), Michael Leo (2g) and English. Jake Stevens feasted all over the field, scoring two goals and assists to go along with five ground balls.

It was Stevens who started the late momentum shift, taking matters into his own hands on the left wing. Midway through the period, Stevens forced his way inside with the leverage he’d created on the wing, finishing over his head before getting popped in the chest near the crease. That made it a two-point game, and the Orange just kept on rolling.

Syracuse did all that damage while Joey Spallina was held scoreless. Shellenberger’s nuclear performance combined with four goals from the nation’s leading scorer, Payton Cormier, and three from Millon weren’t enough to get it done in the final minutes.

Now, as Syracuse prepares for the postseason, one question remains: Is Syracuse lacrosse back? The two head coaches had very different opinions on the matter.

“They certainly were back even before today’s win,” Tiffany said. “They are certainly back to what the expectation level is here, and the team I grew up adoring and the team I’ve witnessed win those national championships year-in and year-out.”

Gait, on the other hand, knows he has more work to do. Syracuse has been on the losing end of comebacks more often than not this season. Now that they’ve leapt that hurdle, it’s time to build on that, and just keep sprinting forward.

“Our focus is to feel like this every game,” Gait said. “I think you’re back when you’re there hoisting the trophy… We’re playing pretty well right now, but we got playoffs to come.”