As an errant pass hit the ground and the game clock hit triple zeroes, the Florida Gators bench sprinted onto the field with euphoria. After four-straight losses to top-10 teams, the Gators finally tasted victory against the nation’s elite as celebratory fireworks boomed overhead.
The No. 13 Florida Gators (2-4) toppled the No. 3 Syracuse Orange (6-1) 14-10 in front of a packed Donald R. Dizney Stadium crowd. It was Florida’s first top-10 win of the season and a bold statement for head coach Amanda O’Leary and her team.
“I just felt before the game they were locked in, they were ready to play. And we had a great week of preparation,” O’Leary said. “This was a total team win.”
Florida’s defense held Syracuse to a season-low 10 goals and forced 12 turnovers. It was one of the best defensive showings of the season for the Gators, and one that drew high praise from senior captain and goalie Sarah Reznick.
“My defense played unbelievable tonight,” Reznick said. “It's been a grind … we've been working really hard to come together and I think we found that.”
The first quarter was the best Florida has looked through seven games. Offensively, everything the Gators did worked, with crisp passing in front of the net after surpassing their individual matchups.
The Florida defense nailed down Syracuse, holding one of the nation’s best offenses to just one goal on three shots in the opening period. As the first quarter came to a close, the Gators held a commanding 6-0 lead, before Syracuse attacker Emily Hawryschuk got the visitors on the board with 25 seconds left. Even with that late goal, Florida was in complete control of the game.
Florida rode that momentum into the second period, capitalizing on an errant pass from Syracuse goalie Kimber Hower for a score. The Orange netminder was pulled soon after for junior Delaney Sweitzer.
Syracuse mustered offensive rhythm in the second quarter by scoring four goals, but a new goalie couldn’t slow down Florida’s offensive form. The Gators scored on 4-5 shots in the period to keep their five-goal lead into halftime.
Florida’s offense slowed down in the third quarter, but the defense was better than ever. The Orange had just four shots, and even when they got a shot off, Reznick stepped up. The preseason All-American made three huge saves in the period to keep the visitors at bay.
The Gators entered the final 15 minutes with a comfortable seven-goal lead and all the momentum in the world.
Then Syracuse found its new lease on life. The Orange started dominating possession at the draw circle and forcing Florida into mistakes. Two UF penalties were turned into free-position goals for the Orange.
The Gators hadn’t allowed a single free-position opportunity all game but gave up three in the fourth quarter. It was more than just penalties, though, as the Orange offense found its feet with 12 shots in the quarter.
With the advantage at the draw and so many opportunities, Syracuse nearly got back into the game, but Reznick played lights out down the stretch to keep the Gators in the lead. Reznick finished the game with 11 saves at 54%, most of them coming in the second half.
“We've had a lot of tough games, and it's come down to the end of the game, and usually I'm the player that stands on my head. And I feel like this season I haven't really come out and done that yet,” Reznick said. “I knew that it was gonna be a tough game and I really had to make some really big things for the team.”
Freshman attacker Emma LoPinto stole the show for the Gators offensively. She scored twice and dished out a game-high four assists. Not only was she productive, but LoPinto broke ankles and snatched the souls of Syracuse defenders all night long.
The rest of Florida’s offense was equally productive. Sophomore midfielder Danielle Pavinelli had another elite showing with four goals and two assists. Sophomore attacker Maggi Hall brought tons of energy all night and scored three goals and provided an assist.
The Gators got another hat trick to round out the scoring from sophomore midfielder Ashley Gonzalez.
“I think they're developing,” O’Leary said of the Gators offensive quartet. “You play so many top-ranked teams in the country so early on, but that's why we do and it's to get that experience and I think that experience showed tonight and I thought they made some really, really great decisions offensively.”
The Gators will look to get back to winning ways on the road this weekend with a Sunday bout in Philadelphia against the Drexel Dragons.
Contact Topher Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.
Topher Adams is a fourth-year communications major and in his fourth semester with the Alligator. He previously covered football, baseball and women's basketball. He also enjoys professional lacrosse and Major League Soccer.