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Men's Lacrosse: Irish lose heartbreaker to Denver, 11-10 in OT; OFD Films: Lets dissect the game winner

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Ah, so close.

Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Zach Miller scored 42 seconds into Overtime after Denver mounted a furious 4th Quarter rally to defeat Notre Dame, 11-10 in Denver.

The matchup, pitting the #3 Irish and the #4 Pioneers, was every bit exciting as advertised.

Denver scored first as Jack Bobzien, returning after a three week absence, ripped one past Shane Doss.

Then the Irish offense found their groove, scoring five unanswered to close out the quarter.

After that, the teams settled into a back-and-forth through the rest of the game until the Irish couldn't stop Denver's momentum in the fourth quarter.

Leading the way for the Irish was Matt Kavanagh, who was in prime form despite the loss. The Irish attackman netted four goals and added two assists as the Irish kept Denver reeling for most of the game. Sergio Perkovic added two scores as the Motor City Missile found his mojo against the Pioneers.

Also standing out for the Irish was goalie Shane Doss, who was exceptional in the loss, netting 12 saves and giving up 11 goals. The stats don't highlight some of the saves however, as Doss made multiple point-blank stops against a relentless Denver offensive attack..

The Irish struggled to contain Denver's offense in the 4th quarter, as Zach Miller would score four of Denver's final five goals. In fact, two of his goals came in the 4th quarter in addition to his Overtime game winner. Also standing out was Denver's outstanding Middie/Attack in Connor Cannizzaro. The Maryland transfer ripped off 4 goals on 10 shots and forced the Irish to utilize a defenseman to guard him at midfield.

The loss drops the Irish to 3-1 on the year with their ACC schedule starting next Saturday in Charlottesville against the Virginia Cavaliers.

Some thoughts before the Film post:

Calling myself to the floor

In my preview for this game, I wrote that in order for the Irish to have a shot at winning, they needed to:

- Maintain composure and minimize penalties

- Win face-offs

- Control the ball on offense and maximize possession

The Irish only did one of those rather well and for only three quarters of play. The Irish had trouble staying out of the box against Denver, racking up a surprising 6 penalties totaling 4 whole minutes. Two minutes of those penalties were non-releasable conduct fouls, one of which was a 4th Quarter Unsportsmanlike Conduct call on Matt Kavanagh that basically gave Denver momentum and the ball. Another was a Roughness call on Jack Sheridan for a late hit and a couple technical holds that were tricky tack. However, the Irish also had two technical penalties for face-off violations, which brings me to the second task.

The Irish struggled all afternoon against Trevor Baptiste, who was downright impressive at the X. Finley only won one face-off and Ossello went 6-17 for a paltry 35% win percentage. The stats also belie the fact that Baptiste basically won every face-off, but Irish wingers beat Denver wingers to the ground ball.  It was brutal to watch. As for the penalties, the NCAA rulebook states:

Violations, if they occur, are to be called by both face-off officials and recorded. Three or more violations on a team in one half will continue to result in a time-served technical foul on the violating team.

It appeared to me that Ossello was the guilty party here on both violations (and the warning ones that led up to it). He was likely trying to find an edge on Baptiste, but it cost the Irish a minute in the box.

The third part was ball control, which the Irish did spectacularly in the first half and most of the third quarter. They hung onto the ball, maximized possession and had a 50% efficiency rating going into the 4th Quarter. Kavanagh made Burgdorf look foolish for most of the first half and Sergio Perkovic was basically unguardable. So what happened?

(p.s. - Eerily predicted the "let it slip away late" thing....I need to buy some scratch off tickets.)

Momentum matters

It was obvious that the Irish had momentum early. Racing out to a 5-1 lead made me think the game would be a boat-race, as Denver didn't come out flying like I thought they would. But they dug in and found the net and kept it close. Consider this as well: Denver only led twice during the game. When it was 1-0 and the final score. They kept it close and used their offensive strategy to perfection in the 4th quarter. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Kavanagh's 4th Quarter penalty again. The Irish had just ripped off three shots on LaPlante and gotten to the end line for possession, so the referees were not going to quickly call a stall warning on the Irish. Yet, Kavanagh tried to do an up-and-over move and split two Denver long poles and paid the price for it. As Denver raced upfield with Kavanagh's turnover, he must've said something to either Burgdorf or the ref because the flag came out right away. It was also unnecessary. Up to that point, the score was 10-7 and the Irish were firmly in control. While Denver only scored one goal on Kav's penalty, it was clearly the start of their momentum, which they used to carry them across the finish line.

Face-offs are everything in lacrosse

Don't let anyone tell you that lacrosse is all about having the best attackman or best shooter or best offense or whatever. It's  all about possession. You can't score if you don't have the ball. In Trevor Baptiste, Denver has a lock on possession. The Irish were literally stuck playing defense against Baptiste at the X and it showed, especially in the second half. Irish wingers stopped taking lines on Ossello and Finley and shadowed the Denver wingers hoping to beat them to the ball. Likewise, ND's face-off man would immediately initiate a ride to force a turnover or a groundball. It was as ugly as it was desperate. The Irish's next opponent in Virginia has been brutalized on face-offs so far this season so it'll be interesting to see if Ossello and Finley regain some mojo and use that to propel the Irish to victory.

Now...pictures!

OFD Films, Lacrosse Edition: So, how did Denver score in Overtime?

Denver is an offensive masterpiece. I love watching them. I'd love to see them again if ND and the Pioneers end up in the Championship. Their goal in Overtime was an example of their offensive strategy and execution that allowed Denver to take over in the 4th Quarter and eventually win the game. Let's take a look at how Denver was able to score in Overtime and my opinion as to what went wrong and how the Irish could've stopped it:

xDUGoal1aa

Denver lined up out in a 2-3-1, where you have two players up top (1 and 2), three along GLE (3, 4 and 5) and one behind the crease (6). However, Denver's offensive alignment is both high-risk and high-clever at the same time here. They've sluffed the X attackman (6) to the crease, leaving no one behind at X. It's high risk because while that crease attack goes back to X on the drive, you have no one at X so if a shot passes the net, where Doss could get the possession chasing the shot to the end line. In addition, all four ND long poles are buried. Nick Koshansky is on Zach Miller (#1) and Jack Near is on Tyler Pace (#2). All the other poles are down low.

DUGoal2

Miller drives on Koshansky.

Here I will don my Coach hat and explain lacrosse defensive strategy in layman's terms. When a defender gets beat, most teams will "slide" a defender to that player to provide help/support to prevent a shot. We call that slide the "hot." There is also a 2nd slide, or the "two" to help the "hot" man, but I'll get to that in a second.

In this case, Garrett Epple is the primary slide and it couldn't be more obvious that he's the "hot" man. He is planted on the crease and is giving his man a wide berth because he has Sheridan helping him out. Near is on Pace up top, Sexton is guarding his man at the Top Right (can't tell who it is) and Landis, next to Sexton, is guarding Cannizzaro. Jack Sheridan, on crease, is splitting his man (the X) and Epple's man. That is how you can tell the "hot." The player furthest away from the ball splits the two men the furthest away. The idea is that it would be really difficult for Denver to force a pass to either of them, so one defensemen guards two players.

DUGoal3

Miller gets a step on Koshansky and Epple slides. Now, I don't know how this would have gone, but in my opinion, Epple slid REALLY early. Given Miller's distance to the cage, it seems unlikely to me that he was going to get a shot off, much less a good one. More likely, Koshansky would have driven him right into the Sexton-Landis glob as Miller neared the cage. I'm also skeptical that Koshansky was beaten. Sure, Miller had a step on him, but he wasn't going anywhere near the cage. Perhaps Doss or someone called for Epple to slide. I couldn't tell. Alas, Epple slid anyway, starting the gears that would result in a Denver game-winner.

DUGoal4

Miller, right as Epple reaches him, roll dodges. Brilliant move by a player that clearly knows what he's doing. Epple's momentum carries him into Koshansky, taking him out and leaving Miller open for a drive on net.

Now Epple had a chance to stop Miller despite the early slide, but went to the wrong hip. Defenders, when sliding, should always protect the crease. We call it sliding "inside-out". Protect the goal first, and drive the man to the sidelines second. Epple went immediately to cut off Miller driving outside, giving him the ability to dodge.

However, ND had a chance to stop Miller from getting an easy shot off. Jack Near, who is circled in red, is the 2nd slide.

Why is he Epple's #2? Two reasons. One, because there are no Denver players on crease. Note that there are three Denver players close to the net, but none are sitting on crease anymore. When that happens, the adjacent become the primary slides. You can clearly see two of the Denver players driving away from the net, giving Miller a lane. Secondly, Miller slides right into Near's path. That means that the 2nd slide is Near, in my opinion.

But there is no way that Near would've known. As Denver was in an alignment that would confuse the Irish, the assumption is that the second crease defensemen (Sheridan) would have slid because his man was originally on crease, but had he done so it would have left two Denver attack wide open on goal. So, as Miller rolled right at Near, in my view, he would be the responsible party to slide to support Epple but it happened so fast that he probably thought he wasn't.

DUGoal5

But the last player that should have slid, slid. Landis, who has Cannizzaro right on the doorstep, is the one who makes a desperation lunge at Miller. Near never moves, though Sheridan does make a step forward. it wasn't enough though. Denver scores and wins in a heartbreaker.

So...what did we learn?

[takes off Coach hat, dons Dennis Green hat] Denver is who we thought they were. An offensive team that uses it's skill and scheme to perfection. They aligned in a confusing scheme, they used skill to defeat a slide, and they won the game. Plain and simple.

For defenders, it's important to understand where you are on the field. Epple slid really early and took a poor angle on Miller. Likewise, a breakdown led to Miller being essentially untouched as no one slid to support Epple/Koshansky. Moral of the story? Communicate! Yes, their alignment is a little confusing, but it's overtime. I'm frankly shocked that only Landis slid. Miller has a chance to win the game. Stop him at all costs. I digress. Communication is key. Knowing who is "hot" and who is your "two" is also extremely important on defense. In this case, it meant the game for Notre Dame.