MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—Friday night a few hundred fans spilled into Bielenberg Sports Complex to watch the latest showdown in a long-standing and intense Upper Midwest Lacrosse Conference rivalry between #24 The University of Minnesota and #18 University of Minnesota Duluth. Their yearly regular season game, which is traditionally a lopsided affair (UMN is 1-16 against UMD since 2006), found new intrigue as Minnesota brought a national ranking to a game that would decide both teams’ post-season fate. Without an automatic bid to the MCLA National Tournament for the UMLC Championship, both teams are relying on an at-large bid from the tournament committee; an already slim chance that would completely evaporate for the loser.
From the opening faceoff, it was clear the game would be a slug fest, as all players came out throwing big stick-checks and looking for any opportunity to hit each other. Duluth’s Logan Lindberg scored first as he dodged down the left alley, got his hands free on a rollback, and skimmed it off The U’s Goaltender Matt Jorgensen. Minnesota’s Kyle Kappel responded less than a minute later, getting the offense started for his team. Goals from Sophomore Bodhi Engum and Senior Captain Connor Gatenby pushed Minnesota ahead, leading 3-2 at the end of the first quarter. Despite a lead, it was the behavior of UMN’s starting Goalie Matt Jorgensen that was drawing the most attention from the team sideline. Although Jorgy had a solid start to the game, heading into the second quarter it became apparent that he was struggling.
Ever since returning from Los Angeles, the Minnesota players have been struggling with illness, and none more so than Jorgenson, who was unable to practice all week or, apparently, eat much solid food. Jorgensen had been stalwart for his team averaging a .626 Save %, and taking over as the full-time keeper after Senior Cody Komorouski suffered a severe concussion in Las Vegas. With big #6 still unavailable from his injury, The U was in trouble if Jorgensen could not continue.
It went from bad to worse during the second quarter. Although Minnesota’s offense pushed the score to 5-3 over the Bulldogs, Jorgensen was visibly unsteady on his feet. Having trouble focusing on the ball, he began to take a knee, hanging his head low whenever his offense maintained possession. While their goalie’s status deteriorated, the U sideline scrambled to find an emergency replacement. Sophomore Midfielder Alex Wohl answered the call, looking for any possible way to contribute to his team after sitting out his freshman year with his second ACL injury.
Duluth took advantage of Minnesota’s distractions and Lindberg fired one past a languishing Jorgensen. Two minutes later, he did it again, and Head Coach Rich Limpert was forced to pull his goalie. Alex Wohl took the field to the encouragement of his teammates and managed to hold the score at 5 to 5 heading into halftime.
During the break, the makeshift Goalie was able to get a real warm-up, some pointers, and face some hard shots. A couple Duluth coaches, and probably many fans looked on, trying to make sense of the switch. Duluth tested Wohl immediately in the third and put one past him. Trying to protect and maybe compensate for their new goalie, the Minnesota defense upped the physicality in an already supremely physical game, drawing back-to-back penalties which UMD capitalized on. Minnesota was down 5 to 8.
Things were looking grim until Wohl came up with two huge stops in a row, taking some pressure off of his defense and allowing them to return to their early game form; no goals were allowed for the next 17 minutes straight. The U’s offense took a cue from their defense and stormed back on beautifully assisted goals to Attackmen Eric Fong and Nick Abbott, bringing them within one goal heading into the fourth quarter: UMN 7 – UMD 8
Minnesota continued their run just 40 seconds into the fourth, as Senior Captain Steve Van Sloun swept straight down the middle of the defense and willed it past UMD’s star Goaltender Jared Klapperich. The game then sat tied at 8 for the next eleven minutes, as both offenses generated some quality looks, but were unable to convert. Alex Wohl notched a couple more huge saves to keep his team in the game while Jorgensen continued to be monitored by the trainer, trying to build up enough energy to return.
With just 3:29 left in the game, Junior Arthur Elmer broke free of his defender and powered the ball off the turf to the far-side pipe, putting The U up again. However just 10 seconds later, Duluth was finally able to beat Wohl, tying the game at 9 and silencing a raucous Minnesota bench; but only momentarily.
Reminiscent of many great sports comeback performances, Matt Jorgensen rose from the bench and returned to the field, stopping halfway to the goal to reclaim his gloves and stick from Wohl. Alex Wohl’s foray into the world of goaltending was over. Coming off the field, the sophomore, after allowing only 4 goals, racking up 7 saves, and making many gutsy plays to keep his team in the game, heard praise from his squad and cheers from a couple hundred Minnesota fans on the far side of the field.
Neither team would score in the remainder. Time expired, and the game headed into overtime tied at 9. One Overtime turned into two, and then finally a third, each four-minute period more charged and emotional than the one preceding it. The teams battled back and forth, unable to score, while Jorgensen’s comeback began to stretch longer and longer. Third Overtime: After turning the ball over, Duluth touched it in the box and took a time out. Minnesota’s defense came off the field feeling the length of the game wearing on them. As they retook the field, they were picked up and pushed on by an increasingly zealous group of Minnesota supporters. The defense dug in their heels to an impassioned “Let's go Gophers” chant, and held Duluth off one last time.
After a big save from Jorgensen, The U cleared it and set up their offense. They attacked the left-side alley, moved it through X where Fong pressed the backside and found a cutting Kyle Kappel who somehow corralled the pass and bounced it low left from no angle. The Minnesota bench rushed the field as they knocked off the #18 Bulldogs 10 to 9, for only the second time in recent history.
Top Performers: #14 Junior Kyle Kappel was a star for Minnesota, scoring their first and last goal on the way to a hat trick in the game.
Junior Eric Fong and Sophomore Bodhi Engum also finished with 3 points on the day, (2 goals, 1 assist) and (1 g, 2 a) respectively.
Next Game: Minnesota takes on two of the top Division II teams in the nation this upcoming weekend: The North Dakota State Bison on Friday April 3rd at 7 PM in the Gopher Dome on campus, and The St. John’s University Johnnies on Saturday April 4th at 7 PM in the Gopher Dome.