For three quarters, the Towson men's lacrosse team committed unforced errors, took low-percentage shots and looked befuddled against Drexel's hybrid zone defense.
The No. 8 Tigers finally rediscovered their footing in the final period, erupting for six goals and racing past the visiting Dragons, 11-7, in the Colonial Athletic Association opener for both sides before an announced 1,009 at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson on Saturday afternoon.
Towson improved to 9-1 overall and 1-0 in the CAA, extending its winning streak to four. But the outlook didn't look as rosy when the team scored just three goals in the first half and trailed 5-3 midway through the third quarter.
"I didn't think we were playing our best lacrosse in the first half," Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said. "Even though we were getting some nice opportunities and playing good defense and facing off really well, we weren't finishing our plays, finishing our opportunities. So a big credit to our guys to continue to stay focused, to continue to work, to continue to get good shots. We got to them in the second half a little bit more."
The Tigers' three goals in the first half tied their lowest output of the season. They also scored just three through two quarters in a 14-8 loss at No. 9 Johns Hopkins on March 12 and in a 15-6 victory over Binghamton on March 26.
Towson did not appear comfortable against Drexel's strategy of switching from a man defense to a zone to a zone-and-one with a short-stick defensive midfielder shutting off junior attackman Ryan Drenner (Westminster) and the defense playing zone against the other five Tigers.
Drenner, the team's leader in assists and points, finished with one goal and two assists but had just one goal in the first three quarters.
"He does a lot of things for them," Dragons coach Brian Voelker said. "He's one of the best attackmen in our league, and he's had a great year so far. So we tried to limit his touches a little bit."
Drexel opened the third quarter with goals from junior attackman Cole Shafer with 10:04 left and sophomore midfielder Will Manganiello with 8:13 remaining to grab their first advantage of the contest at 5-3.
But Towson embarked on a 6-0 run over a 13:43 span. Junior midfielder Mike Lynch (Boys' Latin) — back from a two-game absence because of a lower-leg injury — collected a rebound of a shot from redshirt junior midfielder Brian Bolewicki (Calvert Hall) that rang off the crossbar and scored with 5:32 left.
Senior attackman Spencer Parks (St. Paul's) curled around the left post and lifted a riser into the top shelf of the net to knot the score at 5 with 1:59 remaining.
Then the Tigers scored the first four goals of the final period. Junior attackman Joe Seider (Hereford) scored twice at 13:02 and 8:49, and Drenner assisted tallies from junior midfielder Tyler Young (Arundel) and junior midfielder Tyler Konen within an 82-second span to give the team a 9-5 lead with 6:49 left in regulation.
The two sides scored twice each in the final 5:42 to complete the scoring.
Seider, who led all scorers with three goals, said associate head coach/offensive coordinator Anthony Gilardi implored the offense, which owned a 46-24 advantage in shots, to keep things simple.
"I think we had a lot of good looks," Seider said. "We just weren't really finishing it. They were playing good defense, but we were getting shots off. We got a lot of shots off. We weren't hitting the cage or we were putting them in bad spots. So I think it was more that we weren't finishing the ball the way we should and the way we know we can. I think in the fourth quarter, we started realizing if we make simple plays and do the simple things, it will come to you."
Towson also dominated ground balls with 40 to the Dragons' 24 thanks to junior Alec Burckley posting a career high in faceoff wins (16 in 21 attempts) and a season high in ground balls (nine).
"I knew it was going to be tough," said Burckley, who was aided by junior long-stick midfielder Tyler Mayes (four ground balls) and senior midfielder Ben McCarty (three). "They didn't make anything easy. But give credit to my wings. They always play tough, and they gave me space when I needed it. They also boxed out and pick up ground balls to make everything easier for me."
Drexel (4-6, 0-1) got two goals each from Manganiello and freshman attackman Matthew Varian, but was forced to play without junior attackman Robert Frazee (17 goals and two assists). Redshirt junior goalkeeper Jimmy Joe Granito outdueled Tigers redshirt senior Tyler White with a career-high-tying 16 saves to White's five.