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Freshmen Lift Bulldogs to Opening Win Over Villanova

Morrill had 5 goals at Villanova (George Duran image)
Morrill had 5 goals at Villanova (George Duran image)

Five Goals from Morrill, Eight From Frosh Propel Elis 


VILLANOVA, Pa. – The Yale men's lacrosse team began the highly-anticipated 2017 campaign against one of its toughest season-opening opponents in recent years. With all eyes looking at Ben Reeves to carry the Bulldogs to a victory, it was the freshman class that lifted the Yale offense, and a strong day from goalie Phil Huffard propelled the Elis to a 16-11 victory over Villanova.


Jackson Morrill led the talented class of 2020 on offense, as he poured in five goals while adding an assist in his collegiate debut. He came just one goal short of the all-time Yale freshman record for goals in a game. Lucas Cotler also scored twice, and Matt Gaudet added one. The freshmen accounted for half of the team's goals, while Reeves was forced to sit out most of the game after taking a big hit.


Veterans also posted big numbers in their season debuts. Junior Phil Huffard recorded 15 saves, a new high for his career. Sophomore Joseph Sessa stepped in for Reeves after his injury, and came up big, scoring once while adding five assists. Jack Tigh and Jason Alessi also added two goals from the midfield.


The Yale defense was put to the test early in the game, as a quick penalty led to an EMO for Villanova. The two teams then traded attacks in the early minutes, and Phil Huffard made three quick saves to keep it a one-goal game. Shots by midfielders Eric Scott and Sessa on the offensive end helped to keep pressure on the Villanova defense.


After Villanova doubled its lead, the Yale offense responded. After holding possession around the perimeter of the offensive zone, Sessa dodged past a defender to the right side. After drawing the attention of two defenders, he slotted a pass to Morrill who found space in the middle of the Villanova defense. Morrill fired a shot low that slid past Nick Testa to put the Bulldogs on the board. 


Villanova led 3-1 after a frame. Huffard had an excellent quarter, making five saves and appearing to be in mid-season form within the first 15 minutes of the season. Villanova had the edge on shots, but there was action on both sides of the field.


The Bulldogs turned things around quickly in the second quarter. An early Wildcat turnover gave Yale another offensive opportunity to begin the frame. Brendan Mackie held possession at the top of the zone, and after an attempt to beat his defender, found junior Jason Alessi on the left side of the perimeter. The two-sport star had enough space to fire a shot, and launched a rocket that found the back of the net and put the Bulldogs within one.


After Yale won possession on the defensive end courtesy of a big hustle play by Jerry O'Connor, sophomore Jack Tigh held possession in the midfield. Tigh took full advantage of the transition offense, and sprinted through the midfield and into the offensive zone. While on the run, he fired a shot to the top corner of the net and quickly leveled the score at three.


Brian Pratt helped to win possession on the ensuing face-off, and give Yale yet another offensive possession. Sessa held position on the right side of the perimeter, and quickly spotted Jeff Cimbalista in the middle of the zone with space. He found the senior attackman, and Cimbalista quickly fired a turnaround shot that took the goalie by surprise, and gave the Elis their first lead of the game. This offensive spree of three goals occurred within a 90-second span.


Villanova scored two quick goals to take the lead again, but the Bulldogs responded with a deliberate attack during an extended possession in the offensive zone. Ben Reeves, quiet until this point in the game, still drew the attention of nearly the entire defense. As he swung around from his usual ground behind the net, the eyes of the defense focused on him. He took advantage, and flipped a pass to an open Morrill on the right side of the net. The freshman kept his composure in the one on one situation with the goalie, and after a shot fake he netted his second goal of the game to tie the score at five.


Reeves took a big hit on the next possession, and was slow to get up. After a Yale timeout midway through the second quarter, the preseason First Team All-American was seen on the sidelines, something rarely seen last season. On the offensive possession after the timeout, Sessa took over for Reeves behind the net. His speed allowed him to create space and draw a second defender. He then found Morrill on the left side, and the freshman fired a shot with great placement to give Yale the lead again. The touted recruit had already made an immediate impact on the Yale attack, notching three goals in the first half of his first collegiate game.


Another face-off win gave the Elis a consecutive offensive opportunity. Another freshman, Lucas Cotler, held possession at the top of the zone. The midfielder made a nifty dodge to gain a step on his defender, and he was able to step inside closer to the goal. He then fired a shot on the run, and the ball sailed past Testa to give Yale a two-goal lead. Villanova would get one back before the end of the second quarter, but at the half, the Elis held a 7-6 lead.


Several key performances in the half helped the Bulldogs overcome an early two-goal deficit and put up six goals in the second quarter. In addition to Morrill's hat-trick, Joseph Sessa recorded three assists, and Jerry O'Connor caused three turnovers for the defensive unit. Conor Mackie helped to give Yale plenty of time in the offensive zone, has he led a face-off unit that went 9-15 in the first half. Phil Huffard recorded five saves.


The face-off unit gave Yale another possession to begin the second half, as the wings were relentless on the groundball and won the battle in the midfield. Once on offense, Sessa set up from behind the net again. After cutting to the left side of the zone, he lobbed a pass across everyone to Eric Scott, who was alone at the perimeter. The senior fired a rocket from the outside, and the low-to-high shot gave Yale another two-goal lead.


After yet another face-off win, the Bulldogs set up their offense once again. Sophomore Brendan Mackie held possession at the point, and began make a sweeping move to the left side. He turned on a dime, and cut back towards the right for a better look on net. He jumped and fired a shot that beat Testa, and within three minutes of the third quarter the Elis led by three.


Jack Tigh kept the foot on the gas pedal for the Yale offense, which was carrying momentum early in the quarter. At the point position, he dodged his main defender, and ran down towards goal on the right side. He beat out the slide, and cut between two more defenders as he sprinted down the alley, and his shot sailed in on the left side to give him his second goal of the game.


In what was already an impressive day for the Yale rookies, freshman Matt Gaudet decided to get in on the action shortly after. In his first play on the field, the Canadian attackman received a feed from Tyler Warner on the left side of the perimeter, and he fired a rocket aimed for the corner of the net, and it founds its destination to build the lead up to 11-6.


Villanova got a goal back, but the Bulldogs were not done on offense. Alessi took possession on the left side of the perimeter, and made a sweeping move across the face of goal from fifteen yards out. There was good pressure from the defense, but while being pushed to the ground Alessi fired a shot across his body, and somehow put enough power on the shot to put it in the net and give the Bulldogs their 12th goal of the game. They would end the third quarter with a four-goal lead.


Conor Mackie gave Yale yet another face-off win, and a chance to set up the offense to begin the fourth quarter. The ball circled the perimeter and ended up with Sessa behind the net. The sophomore, already with four assists, was looking to set up another goal, and circled around to the goal-line extended on the left side. He quickly found a streaking Morrill, and no one was there to cover the freshman. Morrill made the finish look easy, and his fourth of the day helped Yale build on their lead once again.


Morrill continued to help on the offensive side on the next possession, as he teamed up with classmate Lucas Cotler to give the Bulldogs their 14th goal of the game. While behind the net, Morrill found Cotler on the left side of the perimeter. Cotler ran down a straight line towards the goal-line extended, and fired a shot from his left side at a tight angle that beat Testa, giving him his second collegiate goal.


Villanova responded with two goals to pull the Wildcats within four, but Morrill was not done with his spectacular offensive performance. The freshman received the ball in the middle of the offensive zone, in a one-on-one situation with his back facing his defender and the goal. While holding off the pressure, he quickly turned to his left, and was able to fire a shot from a low angle, and it flew into the net for his fifth of the game, one short of the Yale freshman record.


The two teams traded possessions late in the fourth quarter, and just seconds left in the game, the Elis had possession in their offensive zone. Sessa began play after the timeout by splitting the double team, and his athleticism allowed him to cut in towards goal and finish into the empty net to give Yale their final goal. The Bulldogs recorded 16 goals only twice last season.


After making a statement in the season opener, the Elis perhaps have their toughest contest still ahead of them. Next weekend, the team will travel to College Park to take on the 2016 national runner-up. The matchup between Yale and Maryland will be aired live on national television, and can be seen next Saturday on ESPNEWS.


filed by Andrew Del Vecchio '19, Yale Sports Publicity