Harvard men’s lacrosse fielded its first team in 1881, well over a century before Boston University established its own program in 2014. Few expected a crosstown rivalry to develop as quickly as it has, but with a narrow 9-8 loss to the Crimson last year, the Terriers showed that they are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Entering its Tuesday night matchup at Harvard Stadium, BU looked to snap a five game losing streak against against the Crimson and earn its first win in the all-time series. The game was tied, 5-5, at halftime, but just as it has in numerous other contests this season, Harvard dug a hole for itself by allowing the Terriers to surge out to a commanding 9-5 lead in the second half.
The Crimson pushed back to bring the score to 9-8, and found itself in a man-up situation with 1:28 to go in the fourth quarter. However, sophomore attackman Morgan Cheek had his close-range shot blocked by a lunging save from BU junior goalie Christian Carson-Banister, and Harvard did not muster another attempt on goal after that.
With the nailbiting victory, the Terriers (7-2, 2-1 Patriot) not only earned their first ever triumph over the Crimson, but also set a new school best for most wins in a season with six games still left on their schedule. After going 2-12 in its inaugural campaign and 6-8 last year, BU has a chance to finish with its first winning record as well. Harvard (4-4, 0-1 Ivy), meanwhile, is back at .500, dropping its fourth straight after a promising 4-0 start.
“I think we didn’t play at the level that we know we are capable of,” Crimson freshman faceoff specialist Eric Wang said. “BU played great but we missed opportunities offensively and defensively and just failed to execute.”
No single player or unit pushed the Terriers over the top on Tuesday, as they benefitted from an especially strong offensive showing from the midfield and stout defensive pressure that held Harvard scoreless for a 31:17 stretch at one point in the game.
Junior midfielder Cal Dearth stepped up when it mattered most, scoring three straight goals for BU across the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth to extend his team’s lead from 6-5 to 9-5. He tormented the Crimson throughout the match with his speed, which was particularly on display during the buildup to his last goal, when he cut through the defense to find a wide-open shot from about 10 feet. Dearth finished with four goals and two assists, leading all players with six points.
“They were able to take advantage of some bad sliding decisions and move the ball quickly for Dearth to get shots,” said Harvard defender and co-captain Stephen Jahelka, who unfortunately missed the game due to injury. “He is a tremendous shooter and it was on display on Tuesday.”
On defense, the Terriers primarily used a zone look to deny the Crimson after it started the game firing on all cylinders with four goals in the first quarter. With the switch in tactics, BU was able to hold Harvard to just nine shots and one goal in the second and third periods.
Even more important than the tactics, however, was the hustle the Terriers showed across the field. They collected 42 ground balls to the Crimson’s 28, including 18 in the fourth quarter to stem Harvard’s rally and hold on for the win.
“I think ground balls was definitely a huge part of the game, Wang said. “Any time you lose the ground ball battle it’s hard to win. We know we definitely have a lot of work to do before our next game.”
For the Crimson, attackmen Devin Dwyer and Morgan Cheek carried the load offensively as they have for much of the season. After passing his personal best for goals in a season last week in just the seventh game, Dwyer, a senior, added four more against BU along with one assist. Cheek, a sophomore, also tacked on two goals and two assists. Outside of the attacking unit, however, Harvard only saw one goal come from a midfield player, sophomore Sean Coleman.
“I think we’re still finding the best combination of midfield lines,” Jahelka said. “[We’re] trying to figure it out right now so the chemistry level is high between linemates during the final post-season push.”
—Staff writer George Hu can be reached at email@example.com