PHILADELPHIA— Sixteen seconds to play and a score tied at 15. Duke had the ball coming out of its timeout. As the clock ticked down, star junior attackman Brennan O’Neill was smothered by Penn State’s defense. He dumped the ball off to Garrett Leadmon, who fired off a shot as time expired; it went wide, and the game was heading to overtime.
But Leadmon wouldn’t make the same mistake again.
Jake Naso won the opening faceoff and the Blue Devils started their offensive possession. Leadmon, coming around the crease, leaped in front of the net, shooting the ball while in the air and landing in the circle. The ball sailed past goalie Jack Fracyon; the official raised his hands above his head, ending the semifinal game. Upon review, Leadmon’s foot was inside the crease prior to his leaping shot, but as the referee had initially called it a goal, the call was not reviewable: Duke was headed to the title game.
"I knew that if I was able to get a good change of direction, I would be able to get underneath, put my foot on the ground and just go for it," Leadmon said after the game.
The hard-fought overtime battle was tight throughout, with the lead — or deficit — never being more than three. In the end, the top-seeded Blue Devils came out on top 16-15 against the fifth-seeded Nittany Lions after hat tricks by O’Neill and Leadmon.
"We knew that if we were patient enough, worked the ball and threw hard passes to each other, that we would be able to step into seams and shoot," said Leadmon.
With less than five minutes to play and the score tied at 15, Naso won possession for the Blue Devils, and they set up shop in their offensive end. With the chance to swing the score back in its favor, Leadmon got two shots off — both high — en route to a shot clock violation and subsequent turnover. Though Penn State gave the ball away on its clear attempt, the Blue Devils next possession proved to be no different, except they only had one shot attempt instead of two.
This time, the Nittany Lions’ clear was good, and after an Owen Caputo pushing penalty, Penn State had an extra-man opportunity. And while the Duke defense had already given up 15 goals when it averaged 10.5 prior to Saturday, it locked down, forcing a shot clock violation of its own and giving its offense the ball with less than a minute remaining.
After the scoring frenzy that was the third quarter, the final period started off slow for both sides. While not without their chances, neither team found the back of the net for nearly five-and-a-half minutes. Penn State’s Jake Morin was the one to break the drought, tying the game at 13. Prior to Morin’s goal, Duke had led since the 2:28 point in the first quarter.
It was short-lived. Graduate midfielders Owen Caputo and Jadon Kerry connected for the go-ahead goal 45 seconds later, just the Blue Devils’ fifth assisted score of the day. Kevin Winkoff responded with his first goal. The graduate attackman facilitated the Nittany Lions’ attack all game, tallying five dishes. Penn State’s offensive strength was in its collaboration — it assisted 13 of its 15 goals as compared to Duke’s 6-for-16 rate.
"We just weren't forcing them to throw the ball to the next man enough or taking away angles," said Penn State head coach Jeff Tambroni.
Duke skated through the first four minutes of the second half in relative comfort. A Charles Balsamo goal three-and-a-half minutes in extended its two-goal halftime lead to three and two William Helm saves kept the defense safe. But 75 seconds after Balsamo’s goal, TJ Malone broke through. Balsamo had opened it up — the third quarter saw nine total goals and short possessions, some as quick as six seconds. No more than two minutes would separate each of the first eight goals scored in the period, four of which went each way.
"At some point, I turned to somebody and said, 'this is gonna be a 60 minute bar fight,'" said Duke head coach John Danowski.
With less than four minutes to play in the first quarter and a 4-3 score in favor of Penn State, O’Neill kicked it into high gear. He spun around a Nittany Lion defender and whizzed a shot low, tying the score. Leadmon and Tommy Schelling followed O’Neill’s lead, and after 15 minutes of play the Blue Devils led 6-4.
Senior attackman Dyson Williams extended the lead to 7-4 less than three minutes into the second period. However, that advantage was short-lived. Jack Traynor fired a shot past Helm. 43 seconds later, his younger brother Matt did the same, making the score 7-6 Duke just four minutes into the period.
Leadmon brought the lead back to two on an unassisted shot after switching hands on his defender, and O’Neill completed his first-half hat trick with just under five minutes to play in the half. Just when it looked like the Blue Devils might be pulling away, quick Penn State passing left the Duke defense frazzled and Malone wide open on the crease, just 16 seconds after O’Neill’s goal. The final 4:38 of the half were scoreless on both sides as they committed a combined five turnovers.
With its star offensive trio firing on all cylinders, Duke struck first. Andrew McAdorey found an open Williams cutting in front of the net for his 58th goal of the season. The Blue Devils and Nittany Lions traded goals in the first seven minutes, with Balsamo splitting defenders for Duke’s second point and Ethan Long and Malone finding the back of the net on shots assisted by Kevin Winkoff.
With 7:28 to play in the first quarter and a man-up advantage after a Charlie O’Connor slash, the Blue Devils left Jeb Brenfleck uncovered on Helm’s left. Brenfleck’s fairly easy goal put Penn State up 3-2, but a quick response by O’Neill evened the totals.
With the win, Duke advances to Monday’s championship game. It will face No. 3-seed Notre Dame.
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Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.