Denver holds off upstart Villanova in snowy thriller

On a cold day in Villanova, Pennsylvania, the No. 4 University of Denver Pioneers topped the No. 18 Villanova University Wildcats 12-11 with heavy snow falling throughout the game. Despite the suboptimal conditions, the Pioneers were able to emerge with an important road victory.

Denver started fast in the first quarter as they jumped out to a 5-2 lead at the end of the first fifteen minutes of play. The conditions made visibility hard for both teams, but the Pioneers seemed to feel more comfortable in the heavy snow and decent accumulation on the field.

The Pioneers scored on each of their first five shots on goal. Thanks to two goals from Connor Cannizzaro and another from Zach Miller, Denver seemed to be in control of the game early. By the end of the first quarter, it appeared that the Pioneers would cruise to their second big victory in as many weeks, but the Wildcats had other ideas.

Part way through the second quarter, the Pioneers held a 7-3 lead over Villanova. Over the course of the last ten minutes of the second frame, Villanova scored three times to pull back within 1 at halftime. While Denver held the slim lead, it certainly felt like Villanova was about to take over this game and begin dominating.

During the Wildcats’ three-goal run, they were winning every hustle battle. Villanova was consistently winning ground balls and faceoffs. It was very uncharacteristic of the Pioneers and the similarities to the loss to Penn State two weeks ago were becoming obvious. In short, Denver was struggling at halftime.

Thanks to what was probably a typical Bill Tierney rant in the locker room at halftime, the Pioneers started the second half at a frenetic pace. If it weren’t for the incredible play of Villanova’s second-half goalkeeper, Dan Willis, Denver might have been able to put the game away in the third quarter. Despite his best effort, he couldn’t keep Cannizzaro quiet. Denver’s star attackman scored a hat trick in the third quarter alone to extend Denver’s lead back to four at 10-6.

The lack of hustle that haunted the Pioneers in the second quarter returned in the fourth quarter. It seemed as though DU stopped trying to win groundballs and faceoffs as soon as the clock started in the final quarter.

These problems at the faceoff X and on groundballs led to a five-goal run for Villanova that gave them their first lead of the game at 11-10. All of a sudden, a game that Denver should win looked in doubt. DU wasn’t hustling and they weren’t playing to win the lacrosse game.

Apparently going down by 1 was exactly what DU needed, though. As soon as Villanova scored their 11th goal, Denver woke up. They started hustling again and they started to win the physical battles. With just 3:07 left, Zach Miller got the ball near the top off of a feed from Tyler Pace and he didn’t miss with his rocket of a shot to tie the game at 11.

Just nine seconds later, Cannizzaro completed the mini-comeback when he beat Willis off of a great feed from star FOGO Trevor Baptiste just after the faceoff. The goal completed the ‘sock trick’ (6 goals in a game) for Cannizzaro and ended up being the game-winning goal for the Pioneers.

Villanova didn’t go down quietly in the final three minutes. The Wildcats had their chances to tie the game, but Denver goalkeeper Alex Ready came up with a couple clutch saves and DU forced some important turnovers to maintain the close victory.

Despite making their job harder than it otherwise should have been, the Pioneers are returning home with an important conference victory. With the win, Denver remains unbeaten in Big East play since joining the conference in 2014.

Denver returns home next weekend to play St. Johns at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. The game is at 1 PM and will be televised on Altitude.

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