No. 1 Rutgers falls in upset fashion to Delaware on the road
NEWARK, Del. -- It was a perfect day for lacrosse. But the Rutgers men's lacrosse team had anything but that.
A lacrosse game is four quarters long, so when the No. 1 Scarlet Knights (8-1) only put together one good period, they set themselves up for a disappointing 13-9 at the hands of unranked Delaware (7-3).
After senior midfielder Jeff George fired in a goal to open up the game, the Blue Hens came out with an intensity that Rutgers simply could not match. They went on a 6-0 run to close out the first quarter, giving the Knights the largest deficit they had seen all year.
Delaware ran a loose zone and locked on junior attacker Jules Heningburg early and often. It was a new look for Rutgers and stifled them for the first 15 minutes.
“We just couldn’t crack it early and that was a problem for us,” said George. “We were more hesitant because we saw something new. If we just come out and run our game and just play fast, that’s how we’re gonna break those new zones and new schemes that we see.”
The Scarlet Knight defense was able to tighten up in the second quarter, and allowed just 1 Delaware goal. The offense could not match that effort, though, as freshman attacker Kieran Mullins scored its only goal of the quarter, with the Knights heading into the locker room down 7-2, a position Rutgers had yet to be in this season.
The question remained if the Knights would come out for the second half looking like the team many people saw for eight games this year -- a combination of lockdown defense and and an opportunistic and clinical offense.
Rutgers did exactly that, holding a commanding 5-2 goal differential in the third quarter and Mullins scored just 26 seconds into the fourth quarter to turn a 9-3 second half deficit to just 9-8 with over 14 minutes to play.
But the Blue Hens came storming back on their home field, scoring 4 straight goals in the fourth to ice the program’s first ever victory over a No. 1 team.
Head coach Brian Brecht has turned the program from a conference bottomfeeder to the top-ranked team in the nation during his six-year tender on the Banks. And as the man who brought this team this far, he took responsibility for a disappointing result.
“Players got us to be number one,” he said. “We were 8-0 cause we have great players. We didn’t handle being number one. I have to do a better job as a head coach.
The defense, which has been the main reason the Knights climbed so high in the ranking before even playing a Big Ten game, had a very up and down day, locking down Delaware in the second and third quarters, but coming out slow and folding down the stretch.
Senior Chris Groel leads the unit in ground balls this season and said after the game that the team didn’t come out with enough intesity to match the Blue Hens’ and could not dig itself out of the early hole.
“We just didn’t play our game today,” he said. “I guess we thought everything would click the way it’s been all season and we took for granted all the little things we’ve been doing right all year.”
On offense, Mullins was able to keep his now five-game hat trick streak going, scoring 4 goals and dishing out 2 assists.
The rest of the attack couldn’t produce at the same level, as Heningburg had just 2 goals -- one of which came in garbage time -- and senior attacker Connor Murphy was a nonfactor, accumulating no points on just four shots.
The Knights simply didn’t look like or play like the best team in the country and it cost them. This game was no fluke, there was nothing out of the ordinary, they were just outplayed by a team that wanted it more.
We didn’t get a great effort from the bench, we didn’t have a great effort shooting, we didn’t get a great effort on the defensive end in the first half,” said Brecht. “It’s a 60 minute game and we only played well for about 15.”