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For the better part of the first quarter, Syracuse’s defense locked down the nation’s assist leader, Pat Kavanagh. Mitch Wykoff mirrored the Notre Dame sophomore’s movements, limiting Kavanagh’s space and using his stick to keep him uncomfortable in SU’s box. The Orange’s gameplan — which head coach John Desko said was to find a matchup where they could cover Kavanagh one-on-one — was working.
Then the second quarter came, and Kavanagh ran wild. The Fighting Irish scored nine goals on 13 possessions, four of which Kavanagh scored or assisted. The sophomore drew Nick DiPietro on a slide, leaving Griffin Westlin wide-open for a backdoor cut. Moments later, Kavanagh was wide-open on a man-up play for an easy goal after Grant Murphy didn’t guard him. He picked out Westlin from X to level the game at 6-6, erasing a four-goal first-quarter deficit.
No. 9 Notre Dame (5-1, 1-1 Atlantic Coast) used a 9-2 second quarter run to beat No. 4 Syracuse (4-3, 1-2) 18-11 on Saturday. The Orange suffered back-to-back conference losses for the first time since 2016, when SU lost to the same two opponents: Duke and Notre Dame. This time, Syracuse had no answers for Kavanagh and the Notre Dame offense. SU slid when it didn’t need to, didn’t slide when it needed to and missed open players on the backdoor, Desko said postgame.
“We kind of came apart a little bit defensively,” Desko said postgame. “The wheels came off in the second quarter, that’s for sure.”
But heading into that second quarter, the Orange held a solid three-goal lead. Brendan Curry extended that to four when he sprinted from X to the mouth of the goal, outpacing his defender. Despite losing seven of the first eight faceoffs, Syracuse appeared to be in control.
But the “mental mistakes” began to accumulate, Brett Kennedy said postgame. Morrison Mirer dodged near the right sideline and breezed by Dami Oladunmoye, cutting to the crease before anyone else on the defense could slide for an easy goal. Drake Porter, who finished with 11 saves, stood and watched as the close-range effort slammed into the back of his net.
When Brett Barlow was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty in the second quarter, Murphy trickled away from Kavanagh as Wheaton Jackoboice wound up as if he was going to rip a long shot. Syracuse’s defense took the bait, and Jackoboice lobbed a skip pass to Kavanagh, who scored, unmarked.
“We were just lacking communication, slow on our feet, and we just weren’t flying around like we were in the first quarter,” Kennedy said. “Plain and simple, they just outworked us.”
Minutes later, Kavanagh started at X and gained a couple steps on Wykoff, coming around the front of the net for a no-look goal that he flipped over his shoulder. The play gave the Fighting Irish a 9-8 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish for the rest of the afternoon.
Working against Wykoff in the third quarter, Kavanagh did a 360-degree spin at X, faking to the right before darting to his left and creating a couple steps of separation from the Syracuse defender. Kavanagh scored his fourth goal of the afternoon as Wykoff walked away, shaking his head in disbelief before stopping and putting his hands on his hips.
“We knew what he was going to do, and we just honestly didn’t stop it,” Kennedy said. “It was pretty simple. We have to come better prepared for him.”
When asked about Kavanagh, Desko said postgame that Saturday’s game was “as good as I’ve seen him play.” Kavanagh’s dodging abilities meant SU had to slide extra defenders, allowing Kavanagh to find the open man, too, Desko said.
“He’s been their quarterback all year, no secret coming in, just for him to have that kind of production with all those possessions, it’s going to be hard for us to beat them today,” Desko said.
Despite losing the faceoff battle and having limited offensive possessions, there was still hope of a Syracuse comeback during the third quarter. The Orange ended the quarter on a 3-0 run via goals from Chase Scanlan, Owen Seebold and Stephen Rehfuss, but the damage had already been done — Notre Dame was coming off a 7-0 run.
Syracuse’s defense had scraped rock bottom just minutes earlier, when Wykoff got burned by Kavanagh. The next possession, freshman Jack Savage — SU’s third faceoff specialist — lost a faceoff, and Notre Dame’s Charles Leonard exploded downfield after scooping up the loose ball. Wykoff and Brandon Aviles wound up trying to jar the ball loose, but both missed, and Leonard went all the way for his second goal of the year. Porter squatted down in the net for a few seconds after the play was done, and SU trailed by six.
And after the Orange’s run brought them within three to open the fourth quarter, Kavanagh went back to work. He picked out Yorke in traffic to stretch Notre Dame’s lead to six. Up a man on the ensuing possession, Kavanagh was wide open near the left post and picked out Yorke again for a goal less than 30 seconds later.
With nine minutes left in regulation, Kavanagh did it a third time. In the man-up after Aviles was called for a 30-second holding penalty, Kavanagh slowly jogged on the left side of Syracuse’s box. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Yorke cut and flipped a no-look pass.
Syracuse’s defense huddled together, and Wykoff leaned over on his stick. Saturday afternoon, there was nothing the unit could do to stop Notre Dame, or Kavanagh.
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