TOWSON, MD — All good things must come to an end, and even worse, that end is sometimes less than stellar.
After playing nearly flawless ball all season on the road to a Big Ten Championship, an undefeated record and one of the greatest offensive seasons the NCAA had ever seen, No. 2 Northwestern (15-1) was trounced in their Final Four matchup against the No. 3 Syracuse Orange (17-3), losing by a score of 21-13 on Friday afternoon.
At first it appeared that it might be a fine — although wet — day inside Johnny Unitas Stadium, as the ‘Cats wasted no time flaunting that historically great offense when Lindsey McCone found the back of the net less than a minute into the game, giving NU a quick 1-0 lead.
However, Syracuse quickly countered with solid and meticulous play, determined to slow the game down and not get into a shootout with the high-powered Northwestern attack. A plethora of fouls committed by NU, sloppy turnovers from their usually pristine offense and opportunistic conversions on the other end from ‘Cuse had Northwestern trailing 4-1 nearing the midpoint of the first half.
Credit to both goalie Asa Goldstock and the Syracuse defense as a whole, as they put together the most complete game any team has offered in slowing Northwestern during the 2021 season. Goldstock made impressive deflection after impressive deflection on several Wildcat shot attempts, while the blue jerseys in front of her did a marvelous job preventing Izzy Scane from turning the corner, always having a body between her and the net.
After a prolonged scoring drought for both teams through the middle portions of the first period, an uncharacteristic drop from Scane with the potential for a goal led to a Syracuse fast break the other way during which they again caught goalie Madison Doucette too far out from the net. Even a second score from McCone was quickly neutralized by the Orange when Emma Tyrell countered with an easy goal only 16 seconds later.
Northwestern finally found life in the most unlikely of places, as little-used reserve Eve Hrutzik stepped off the bench and broke the run from ‘Cuse with a goal to make it 10-3, and soon after the lid was lifted off the net for Scane, who connected on a shot for her 10th goal of the season.
The ‘Cats entered the half having been thoroughly dominated and trailing 10-4, but those last two goals garnered them some much needed momentum heading into the break. It carried over right away in the second, as another trademark Scane rocket from the top of the circle made it 10-5. But again, Syracuse answered with a goal from one of the Tyrells, this time from leading scorer Meaghan, who finished with a game-high total of five.
There was a bit of celebrating on the Northwestern sideline when Scane tallied her third goal of the game and her 97th on the season, giving her back the mantle of being the NCAA’s leading goal-scorer from Boston College’s Charlotte North, who entered the day tied with Scane and scored two goals in the Eagles’ upset win over North Carolina in the first semifinal matchup. Scane finished with four goals on the day and 98 total for the season, falling just short of the NCAA record 100-goal mark Stony Brook’s Courtney Murphy set back in 2016. Barring a surprisingly low-output from North in her final game, she will likely snatch first place on the season leaderboard back from Scane in the National Championship this Sunday.
Still, with the Orange ahead 15-8 and less than 15 minutes left in the contest, all hope seemed lost until another surge was offered from an unexpected source in Jane Hansen, who nearly doubled her goal output for the entire season with back-to-back spinning shots that cut the Syracuse lead to four. That was followed with a diving shot for goal No. 98 by way of the Scane Train, and suddenly the ‘Cats had come to life, trailing only 15-12 with eight minutes to go.
But as was the case all game, Syracuse responded like a winning team would, with three goals in three minutes to quell the run. The offensive outbursts from Northwestern that had overwhelmed opponents all year simply did not phase the Orange, as they calmly won the draw controls they needed to and picked apart the NU defense with smart passing left and right.
Despite a year of dominant play, the result on Friday left no doubt as to who was the better team. Syracuse came in on a mission, and while the ‘Cats competed and fought admirably the entire way through, the fact remains that there was nothing fluky in their defeat.
With the result, Northwestern’s most storied program will not end its championship drought, having not won the title since they claimed their seventh in eight seasons back in 2012.