Some games are just about 60 minutes of lacrosse.
One team wins, the other loses. If it’s a tournament game like this weekend a season ends when the clock strikes zero while another keeps going.
For a Penn State program that has been playing lacrosse since before World War I started and never made it this far, Sunday’s game against Loyola takes on even more meaning than your standard postseason game.
It represents a rare opportunity to make the Final Four in Philadelphia, the biggest city in the Keystone State and the home of a massive collection of Penn State alumni. Not only would that give the Nittany Lions a nice fan following in the stands if its quest for a national championship continues past Sunday, it’d almost undoubtedly find some new followers for the program.
“If a young man wants to be a part of a historically rich tradition with national championships that’s been built decades before his arrival because he wants to be ingrained in that, then this is probably not the place,” Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni told reporters. “But it was a different undertaking in terms of just getting young men who were willing to be a part of an upstart or a first.”
It’s also about attackman Grant Ament and his quest to be the first Tewaaraton (the Heisman of lacrosse) winner in program history. After all, the nation’s two best players and the frontrunners for the award will be sharing a field for 60 minutes. With Ament’s main competition, Loyola’s Pat Spencer lined up across from him, what happens on Sunday will go a long way toward deciding who ultimately wins the award.
For Ament and the other Philly area natives on the team, of which there are many, a win would mean playing for the sport’s biggest prize in their hometown and on the field of their favorite football team (just ask goalie Colby Kneese, a huge Dallas Cowboys fan about that).
For defender Chris Sabia, who was highly drafted in both the PLL and MLL drafts, it’s quite the showcase opportunity for him — a chance to validate that a defensive unit which has taken a more than fair share of criticism over the last few seasons has improved with his lead.
Sabia will get to defend against one of the two best attackmen in college lacrosse for 60 minutes with the whole lacrosse world watching. He isn’t going to completely shut down Spencer, no one can, but how much he slows him down without needing someone to slide to him will go a long way toward determining whether this record breaking run keeps on rolling or comes to a heartbreaking end.
“Pat Spencer is an amazing player and he does a lot of thing that you don’t see any one do, but I feel like Grant has prepared me really well for him,” Sabia told reporters.
For Tambroni it’ll be a validation to the lacrosse community that he could create a dominant program once again. After making three Final Fours in his last four seasons at Cornell before darting for Penn State, many expected similar success to come quickly in Happy Valley. However, it just hasn’t happened yet -- not until this year at least, season nine of his tenure in State College.
This is the biggest game the Nittany Lions have ever played, there is no escaping that. A 12 game win streak that started all the way back in early March is just three wins from capping off one of the great single seasons in recent lacrosse history. The fourth highest scoring offense in lacrosse history paired with an ever improving defense has resulted in some absolute slaughterings this season.
The Nittany Lions are favored on Sunday by 3.5 goals for that reason. Top-to-bottom they’ve just been a better team than Loyola since the middle part of the season.
With a complete game on Sunday, Penn State should keep their season going and be on the bus to Philly next weekend.