It was a game of mixed emotions and momentum swings, untimely goals and a true test of character.
Less than two minutes into the game, Michigan freshman attacker Bryce Clay shot the ball emphatically into the net, the horn sounded and “The Victors” rang throughout the U-M Lacrosse Stadium. But only a short minute later, Notre Dame junior Brendan Gleason answered, and thus began the rollercoaster of a game that ensued.
Despite valiant efforts and a strong defensive presence, the Wolverines (3-4) fell to the Fighting Irish (4-2), 12-9, on Tuesday night.
Michigan, sans all four of its faceoff men and some of its top scorers, namely senior Brent Noseworthy, due to injury, fully embraced their “Next Man Up” mentality. Both Clay and sophomore Alex Buckanavage came away with hat tricks and defenseman junior Finn Goonan stepped in at the faceoff position and recording all four of Michigan’s faceoff wins.
“We’ve got a lot of competitive dudes out there. It’s a competitiveness that says, ‘Now it’s my time. Next man up.’ These guys work really hard throughout the week, whether you’re on the scout team or in the actual reps,” said Michigan coach Kevin Conry. “When they get the opportunities, they’re making the most of it.”
And keep competing they did.
The first period ended with Notre Dame leading 3-2, due to goals by the Fighting Irish’s Brian Willetts and Connor Morin and Wolverine sophomore attacker Alex Buckanavage.
The second period featured two penalties drawn by Michigan for unsportsmanlike conduct and slashing, as the Wolverines notched up their defensive intensity. Notre Dame freshman star Quinn McCahon scored his first of two goals in the 10th minute, and Buckanavage answered four minutes later. Things picked up around the three-minute mark as McCahon scored his second goal, Clay answered for the Wolverines 45 seconds later, and Notre Dame finished the half on a positive swing with two goals in the last 54 seconds.
“I think we’ve accepted as a group that we will be playing a little more defense than we would like,” Clay said. “Defensively, (my teammates are) a bunch of crazy dudes that love the game of lacrosse, and I wouldn’t change it for anybody. But offensively, that means we just gotta hold the ball and possess a little bit more, give them a break, and treat it like a golden nugget. That’s what we say, the ball is a golden nugget.”
The Wolverines went into the second half down 7-4 and, due to their strong defense, drew two penalties before a goal by Clay with 9:30 to play in the period. Then, Michigan got two 30-second penalties for offsides and holding, followed by an Irish penalty for slashing. Soon thereafter came the flurry of five goals in five minutes. Michigan kicked it off with a goal by senior Decker Curran at the 5:41 mark, followed exactly a minute later by an Irish goal from junior Bryan Costabile.
With two minutes to play, Wolverine faithful cheered louder than ever for senior Brandon Shima as he scored his second goal of the season, followed by senior Justin Gibbons tying up the game for Michigan. But no second was wasted in this game, as Fighting Irish freshman Griffin Westlin put one in the back of the net with one second left in the period.
Back within one goal, Michigan came into the fourth quarter with an increased sense of urgency — but to no avail. Within the first 42 seconds, the Fighting Irish’s Wheaton Jackoboice put them up two, and was paired with a Michigan penalty for unnecessary roughness. Notre Dame started to kill time and scored twice within six minutes to go up 12-8. Buckanavage scored his third goal with 1:26 left, but the Wolverines ultimately fell short as the final horn sounded.
“All of our guys play to the final whistle, so none of us thought we were gonna have that outcome,” Clay said. “Lacrosse is a game of runs and they started off strong … it’s a game of runs and they had a bit more of a run than we did.”