Stevenson Rallies Past RIT to Take First National Title
PHILADELPHIA — Stevenson was in trouble. Big trouble.
Trailing 13-10 at the start of the fourth quarter after squandering a five-goal second half advantage over RIT, the Mustangs were one away goal from cratering. They had already become unhinged on faceoffs, dinged for three 30-second violation penalties in the first half, and were teetering on an emotional high wire with three unsportsmanlike conduct penalties that the Tigers turned into a pair of goals in the second half.
But that pivotal next goal never came from RIT.
Instead, Stevenson scored five consecutive goals over a span of 3:45 early in the fourth quarter to take a 15-13 lead and an eventual 16-14 victory in front of 22,511 fans who showed up for the NCAA Division III national championship game at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday afternoon.
|Stevenson's Mark Pannenton paced
the Mustangs offense with five goals in a 16-14 win over RIT in the
Division III men's championship game on Sunday at Lincoln Financial
Field in Philadelphia.
© Greg Wall
It was a tumultuous way for Stevenson to win its first title in school history, but the fourth-quarter rally certainly made it memorable.
"I thought we played to win the game, we didn't play to lose the game," said Stevenson head coach Paul Cantabene. "At 13‑10, when things weren't really looking good for us in the fourth quarter, in the huddle [sophomore attackman] Pat Candon was coming to me, 'Coach, don't worry, we're going to get this.' [Sophomore midfielder] Mike Crowe came up to me, 'Coach, don't worry, we're going to get this. It's in our hands, we can handle it.'"
"When we started the fourth quarter, I just was trying to tell everyone — and coach was trying to tell everyone — to stay calm," said senior midfielder Nick Rossi. "We had been in that situation before, and towards the end of the year we kind of excelled in those situations: keeping our composure and making plays when we needed to make plays. That's something coach has stressed all year and I thought we did that again today."
The fact that Cantabene was stressing composure in the fourth quarter holds a healthy dose of irony. Twice the Mustangs head man was assessed one-minute non-releasable unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, including one with 1:14 left in the game that gave RIT a two-man advantage with Stevenson nursing a two-goal lead.
"I went in that huddle and basically said, 'Hey, fellas, that one's on me,'" Cantabene said. "You guys have got to bail me out on this one. I screwed up and I shouldn't have said anything."
Cantabene was taken off the hook by the defense, especially rookie netminder Dimitri Pecunes, who made several spectacular saves down the stretch, finishing with 15 on the day.
"When you're put in position to make a play, you have to make a play, and Dimitri Pecunes, the kid came up with three saves within about 15 seconds," said senior Tyler Reid, who had a goal and two assists in the win. "He stole the show."
Mark Pannenton, who is in his first season with Stevenson, scored five goals to pace the Mustang efforts, and was named the game's Most Outstanding Player. His production played second fiddle to RIT's Kyle Aquin, who finished with seven goals, tying Sam Bradman's championship-game record mark in Salisbury's win over Tufts in 2011.
"I think all the credit goes to my teammates," Aquin said. "I just try and get open, and I trust all my teammates that they're going to make the right looks. Fortunately, a few of them came my way, and I tried to finish all that I could."
All seven of Aquin's goals came in the second and third quarters, when RIT used a 12-4 run to flip a 6-1 first quarter deficit into the 13-10 bulge heading into the fourth. While the Tigers' managed to rally all the way back, RIT head coach Jake Coon pointed out that the early deficit might have factored in at the end.
"We came out a little starry‑eyed, I guess, and that was a big concern of mine, and we kind of paid for it," he said.
The initial Stevenson stretch set the table for a wild game that produced the fourth highest goal total in championship game history and the most since Salisbury's 19-13 victory over Cortland in 2008. But it was the final push — a stretch that turned a potential mess into the best day in the Mustangs' program short history — that will be the lasting memory remembered in Owings Mills.
"We knew that both teams were going to go on their own separate runs here in the game and it was definitely up and down," Pannenton said. "But I think we just rallied up and really showed some heart there in the fourth quarter. We just showed how much we wanted this one today."