On the day of his final game for Cornell, when Rob Pannell cemented a record-breaking legacy, the former Smithtown West lacrosse star cried. "I'd give up everything I achieved to play on Monday," Pannell said, sobs punctuating every word.
Pannell achieved a lot throughout a college career that includes four All-American seasons and most likely the soon-to-be announced Tewaaraton Award for the sport's outstanding player each season. Yet Saturday, when Pannell had five goals and two assists to set the NCAA career scoring record while helping Cornell rally from an eight-goal deficit, he become near inconsolable after the Big Red lost, staggering around for several moments after the final horn.
"I couldn't believe it was over," Pannell said.
Duke, with goalie Kyle Turri (West Islip) making 16 saves, faceoff specialist Brendan Fowler (Chaminade) winning 12 of 19 draws in the second half and nine different players scoring goals, won in an NCAA Tournament semifinal, 16-14, before 28,444 at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Blue Devils (15-5) will face Syracuse (16-3) in Monday's championship game.
"An absolute heartbreaker," Cornell coach Ben DeLuca said.
It didn't look like the Big Red (14-4) had much of a heartbeat after a 9-0 run by the Blue Devils created a 14-6 advantage with 2:20 left in the third quarter. Then Pannell scored from the wing off a feed from Steve Mock (Huntington) to launch an improbable comeback. Pannell, who took an astonishing 20 shots, notched two more goals and two assists in the fourth quarter. He tied the NCAA scoring record held by Duke assistant and alumnus Matt Danowski (Farmingdale) with an over-the-shoulder shot with 8:37 left in the fourth to make it 14-11. Just 33 seconds later, Pannell scored the record-breaker unassisted with a dodge from behind the cage. It was the 354th point of a historic career. And last.
"We knew we wouldn't shut him down," said Turri, even though Pannell was held to two first-half goals as Duke clung to a 7-6 lead. "We knew they'd make a run and start going to the cage like crazy."
After Duke's David Lawson made it 15-12 with an unassisted gem, Max Van Bourgondien and Connor Buczek answered for the Big Red, but only 52.9 seconds remained. That's when Fowler won a faceoff and Jordan Wolf clinched it with his fourth goal with 38.8 seconds left.
"I just tried to stay composed and treat it like it was any other faceoff," said Fowler, who won 16 faceoffs to break the NCAA single-season record.
"Cornell played brilliantly, and fiercely at the end," said Duke coach John Danowski, Matt's father. "But our guys took the hit. We had a lot of people contribute. Our plan was to be physical with Pannell and not let him get the ball. If we were going to limit his shots, well, we limited him to 20."
Including Pannell's final one.