Pioneers ride nine-goal second half, Colin Rutan heroics to win overtime thriller against Towson

Photo courtesy DU Athletics

With 1:46 left in overtime, Colin Rutan found himself with time and space to the left of the net. He saw top-right twine just waiting to be graced with a ball’s presence. It was almost calling out to him. Rutan heard it, saw it, and found it. As soon as the ball hit the net and fell to the ground on the other side of the goal line, the Pioneers spilled off the sideline and mobbed Rutan for clinching an important 11-10 nonconference victory over the Towson Tigers.

“[Ethan Walker] was kind of open and he passed to me in the middle and I kind of noticed an opening back side,” Rutan said of his game-winning goal. “I saw [Austin French] pretty late but the guy’s stick was in the lane so I just decided to shoot it. I didn’t hesitate.”

Coming into the game at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, the prevailing thought was that after dispatching of a talented Ohio State team last week, the #5 Denver Pioneers would roll to victory over the Tigers. That was, of course, the same feeling that most had before the 2016 NCAA Tournament game between the same two programs and the Tigers came to Denver and pulled off the huge upset.

Whether it was overconfidence or a simple lack of intensity, the Pioneers came out flat in the first half. Neither team scored a goal in the first quarter before the Tigers outscored the Pioneers 4-1 in the second quarter. Denver turned the ball over 11 times in the opening 30 minutes and something was going to have to change. Denver was well on their way to another upset loss to Towson by halftime.

“I think we came out a little slow,” senior captain and star faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste said of the Pioneers’ rough first half. “I don’t think it was necessarily X’s and O’s, I think it was more of just that intensity that I think we were lacking.”

Whatever was actually said by Tierney and Baptiste worked. Denver looked like a completely different team, especially in the third quarter. The offense was playing well and the Pioneers seemed to flip a switch. Shots that Towson goaltender Shane Brennan was stopping in the first half were finding twine and Denver found that extra gear to pull themselves back into the game.

It certainly helped that Denver went on a six-goal run between the third and fourth quarters to take a 9-6 lead into the final 10 minutes of the game. The run was highlighted by two goals from Baptiste that got the 2,344 fans in attendance back into the game and two of Ethan Walker’s five goals.

“That was the whole momentum lift,” Tierney said of Baptiste’s goals. “The team started to believe at that point that we could do something.”

Towson eventually stopped the run and tied the game at 10 with 30 seconds left. That left plenty of time on the clock for Denver to score and take the game in regulation. Towson even did their part to help Denver with their fifth faceoff violation of the half to give Denver an extra-man opportunity to close out regulation. Colton McCaffrey appeared to pull off his best Connor Cannizzaro impression and score as time expired. One referee signaled for a good goal and another waved it off. After a long conversation, the refs determined it was not a goal and they’d go to overtime.

“The ref said that the ball didn’t go in the goal until after the buzzer,” Tierney said of the controversial last-second play. “The rule is if you shoot it before the buzzer, it’s a goal.”

Unfortunately, the refs got the call wrong but Denver dominated the overtime period. They started with possession thanks to the faceoff violation extra-man opportunity that carried over and they didn’t relinquish it. Towson effectively held Denver’s top scorers like Ethan Walker, Austin French, and Colton Jackson in check. But that opened the door for Rutan. While the Tigers were preoccupied with not letting Denver’s biggest names beat them, they lost track of Rutan and lost the game.

It wasn’t Denver’s best performance of the year by any stretch, but it was an important win against a big, physical, defensive team. This game and the first half especially will be important learning points for this team as they head into Big East play next weekend.

“We like to look at it as two seasons,” Baptiste said. “We have the out of conference season and the conference season [before] hopefully the postseason. We’re transitioning into that second season now and we know that this is really important. It’s important to go out hard in our conference and it’s something that we really haven’t done in the past two years. it’s something we need to place more of an emphasis on.”