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Teammates celebrate with CJ Kirst after a Cornell goal

What Just Happened? Making Sense of the Wildest Game of the Year

April 3, 2024
Matt DaSilva
Rich Barnes

Cornell and Syracuse have staged enough thrillers to give M. Night Shyamalan a run for his money. In the annals of their 124-year-old men’s lacrosse rivalry, you’ll find eras of dominance on both sides and the most manic 24 seconds in NCAA championship history.

The latest installment, however, takes the cake.

CJ Kirst scored his fifth goal in double overtime to lift No. 13 Cornell to an 18-17 victory over No. 9 Syracuse at ­Schoellkopf Field — a two-and-a-half-hour game that featured a massive comeback, multiple jaw-dropping plays, an ejection, three goals in the last 20 seconds of regulation and a Tewaaraton Award candidate delivering the dagger.

The Orange (9-4, 1-1 ACC) jumped out to a 7-0 lead, their opening salvo culminating in 6-foot-4 defenseman Billy Dwan reeling in a deflected pass, turning his back to the goal and flipping the ball between his legs to score.

The Big Red (6-3, 2-1 Ivy League) responded with a four-goal run of their own. Then Joey Spallina unleashed some more sorcery, scoring on his signature behind-the-back shot after backing in his defender above goal line extended.

Syracuse and Cornell combined for 15 goals in the second quarter alone. The Orange led 14-10 at halftime, continuing their onslaught despite being without offensive coordinator Pat March, who was ejected toward the end of the first quarter after arguing with officials.

Syracuse extended its lead to 16-10 midway through the third quarter, but the Big Red’s offense reheated near the end of the frame thanks to Michael Long, who finished with a game-high nine points on five goals and four assists. He scored at the 1:53 mark then fed Kirst for a man-up goal 42 seconds later.

Cornell kept it going in the fourth quarter, winning five of seven faceoffs during the lone cold spell for Orange ace Mason Kohn (20-for-26). The Big Red pulled within one after Long scored to make it 16-15 with 5:29 remaining.

Then, after a roughly four-minute stalemate, came the most bonkers final 30 seconds of regulation.

Ryan Goldstein scored in an unsettled situation, tying the game after Willem Firth found him on the doorstep from midfield. It was the third straight Cornell goal assisted by Firth.

Kohn’s counterpart, Marc Psyllos, won the ensuing faceoff, took it down the right alley and scored his third career goal to put the Big Red ahead 17-16 with 10 seconds left.

Syracuse responded, as Jake Stevens swooped in off the wing for a ground ball on the next faceoff and fed Sam English near midfield. English blew past his defender and scored on a low bouncer with 1.1 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime.

Cornell goalie Wyatt Knust made two saves in the first overtime and another to begin the second, setting the stage for Kirst to win it. Supplanted as the Big Red’s starter by freshman Matthew Tully, Knust, a junior, entered the game in relief of Tully at halftime and made nine saves while allowing just three goals the rest of the way.

Kirst, who missed wide twice during a Cornell man-up in the final minute of the first overtime, caught a pass off a rollback from Spencer Wirtheim and drilled a lefty bouncer to end what easily qualifies so far as the game of the year.

It made for four overtimes in four days for Cornell, which lost 11-10 in double overtime at Penn on Saturday. After Tuesday’s potential season-turning win, the Big Red are back in action Saturday against Brown.