Pioneers Ride Explosive Second Half, Ethan Walker Hat Trick to Season-Opening 9-8 Thriller Over Utah

The turning point may have been Ethan Walker’s third-quarter man-down goal that gave the #5 Denver Pioneers (1-0) their first lead of the day but it was the balance of halftime adjustments by head coach Bill Tierney and offensive coordinator Matt Brown that helped the Pioneers turn a 3-1 halftime deficit against the Utah Utes (0-1) into a 9-8 season-opening victory at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium. It wasn’t exactly the kind of game that Tierney and the Pioneers expected to play, especially in the first half, to open the season but an eight-goal second half thanks to six different Pioneer scorers and a strong defensive performance propelled the Pioneers.

The first half was an uncharacteristically defensive battle by both teams. Denver’s offense never found a rhythm while Utah’s offense was mostly held at bay by a combination of strong play by Denver’s defenders and goaltender, Jack Thompson, who made 11 saves throughout the day. Despite four man-up opportunities – DU didn’t score on any of them – Denver couldn’t find a way to threaten Utah’s defensive structure and it led to an altogether baffling 3-1 score in favor of the visitors after 30 minutes of lacrosse.

The second half was a different story altogether, though. From the jump, the Pioneers’ offense looked better and more effective as Jack Hannah scored twice in the first four minutes to tie the game at three and put the Utes on their heels. From there, it was a back-and-forth quarter where Yale transfer Jackson Morrill scored his first goal as a Pioneer and Ethan Walker scored his second to tie the game at 5 until Morrill found Walker with just 14 seconds left in the quarter with the Pioneers down a man to make it 6-5 on Walker’s first hat trick of the season, Denver’s first lead of the game.

Denver’s run continued through the first six minutes of the final quarter as three more Pioneers scored, punctuated by JJ Sillstrop’s behind-the-back goal to extend DU’s lead to its largest of the day at three, 9-6. The Utes, to their credit, did not go away after sustaining an extended 8-3 second-half run. The now-westernmost program in the country scored twice in the final three minutes of the game to put at least a little bit of doubt in DU’s minds but a holding call against Utah with 45 seconds left gave DU a fresh 80-second shot clock and the opportunity to salt the game away.

It was an uneven performance for the Pioneers in total. Inconsistent offensive possessions, a poor faceoff performance – Alec Stathakis and Brett Boos combined to go just 8-for-20 day at the X – and a man-up unit that went just 1-for-8 on the day were the glaring issues for a team with extremely high expectations coming into the season. This was, however, just the first time the entirety of the 67-man Pioneers squad had been together all year due to COVID-19 protocols that limited participation at practices. But with a trip to North Carolina to take on #1 Duke and #6 North Carolina looming on their schedule next weekend, it’s imperative that the Pioneers knocked off all of the rust today. A 1-0 start always feels good but in a year like this one with just four total non-conference games, Denver cannot afford another performance like this one against two national title contenders next weekend.

Bill Tierney Postgame



4 thoughts on “Pioneers Ride Explosive Second Half, Ethan Walker Hat Trick to Season-Opening 9-8 Thriller Over Utah”

  1. Why does the first photo show a crowd? I walked by and saw it live for a few and there was almost no one there. Walked home and watched the rest on line and still almost nobody. That first pic is strange.

  2. Early season game that was much closer than it needed to be for DU. Lot of work to do to get ready for Duke and UNC.

    The Good: DU’s second half adjustments. Ethan Walker, Teddy Sullivan, Jack Hanna and Jackson Morrill got the job done in the second half, and DU’s goaltending was quite serviceable with Jack Thompson, which was helpful. J.J. Sillstrop’s game-winning goal was a a slick behind-the-back shot, too. Pios got the win, which is all that matters.

    And Utah showed up with a fine performance on the road. That program is going to be pretty good with all those underclassmen.

    The Bad: The DU man-up unit for going 1-8. Horrendous, lethargic and low energy overall start for DU, followed by some godawful shooting accuracy.

    The Ugly: The DU face-off unit. The rule change puts ground balls at a premium, and DU did not look ready for it. At all. Wing play MUST improve and quickly for DU to have a shot in NC.

    On to Duke…

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