It was touted as one of the most exciting match-ups of the season. It did not disappoint.
No. 4 Northwestern battled No. 5 Syracuse on Saturday in a rematch of last year’s National Championship game, which NU came back to win 8-6. In similar fashion, Syracuse came out strong and held the lead for most of the game before the Cats made a final push in the closing minutes, clinching a 13-12 victory and their 11th straight win over the Orange. NU (9-1, 3-0 ALC) improved to 86-2 in their last 88 home games.
Junior Alyssa Leonard, a normally sure-fire draw control winner, had been struggling at the center line all day. But when the Cats needed her, she came through, knocking in the go-ahead goal with 6:09 left in the game. She also won the ensuing draw control, allowing NU to play keep away for the remainder of the game.
Leonard will be hailed as the hero but senior Ali Cassera kept the Cats within striking distance all game, scoring a career-high five goals on six shots.
Syracuse (5-3, 1-0 Big East) got on the board within the first minute but senior Erin Fitzgerald tied it up on a free-position shot a few minutes later.
The Orange scored the next three goals as the NU defenders left attackers wide open in front of the net, including sophomore Alyssa Murray, the 2012 NCAA leading scorer, who notched five goals in Saturday’s match.
Syracuse took a 7-5 lead into halftime, thanks in part to an 11-1 advantage in draw controls.
The Cats came out quickly to start the second period, tying the game at seven with over 22 minutes to go. However, the Orange maintained the advantage in draw controls and continued to throw off the NU defense with a high-pressured attack.
The two teams traded goals from the 15-minute mark to the 10-minute mark, with Fitzgerald knocking in two more and Thornton tying the game at 12 with 10 minutes left, setting up Leonard’s eventual game-winner.
Similar to their last game, a 9-8 win over Ohio State on Wednesday, the Cats held a one-goal lead and possession of the ball in the final minutes. While trying to stretch the field and run out the clock, Fitzgerald saw an opening and tried to clinch the game with a goal, but the ball headed out of bounds and went to Syracuse. The Orange did not hold possession for long though, as Fitzgerald came out and forced a turnover in midfield. The Cats maintained possession until the final seconds ticked off the clock.
NU has another long break until their next match against No. 9 Penn State (7-3, 2-0 ALC) on Friday. The Nittany Lions earned a monumental upset over No. 2 Florida on Saturday, handing the Gators their first defeat of the season and snapping their 24-game regular season win streak. NU beat Penn State 14-7 last season and is riding a 14-game win streak against the Nittany Lions, with an average margin of victory of eight goals.