In a matchup featuring many of the country's top talents, the top-ranked Irish struggled offensively, as they fell 11-8 to east-coast rival and Big East regular season champion No. 4 Syracuse.
The Irish (10-1, 5-1 Big East) opened the game with two goals from sophomore attack Ryan Foley and senior midfielder Zach Brenneman to take a quick 2-0 lead. Notre Dame's defense fell apart with six minutes remaining in the first quarter, and Syracuse (13-1, 5-0) scored four consecutive goals to end the quarter with a 4-2 lead.
Brenneman responded with his second goal several minutes into the second quarter, but the Orange answered once again with two goals of their own, taking a 6-3 lead into halftime.
Syracuse recorded a 3-2 advantage over the Irish in the third quarter, as Orange senior attack Stephen Keogh netted his third of four goals on the night, energizing the Syracuse crowd and making it a four-point game.
The Orange came storming out in the final quarter, scoring two goals on Irish sophomore goalie John Kemp, who collected nine total saves in the game. An 11-5 Orange lead would not stop the Irish, though, as junior attackman Sean Rogers and senior midfielders David Earl and Brenneman added goals with under five minutes remaining.
The Irish more than doubled the Orange's turnovers (17-8), but they won the faceoff battle (14-9), gathered more man-up opportunities (2-1) and tied Syracuse in shots on goal with 33. Despite holding their own in these categories, the eventual Irish rally was not enough to come back from the first quarter deficit.
Brenneman said he was happy with the Irish effort, but he said he wishes they had decided to play aggressively a little sooner than the final quarter.
"I'm proud of our guys because we were down 11-5, and we battled back. It stayed close and I loved that about our team," he said. "Just kind of getting down early is something we can't do because we don't function well down early. Earlier this season we've been able to come back from deficits like that, but we don't like to put ourselves in that position."
The Syracuse midfield is stacked with player-of-the-year nominees, and Saturday night the Irish witnessed an offensive system that role plays and creates opportunity as well as any team in the country.
"They know exactly what they're best at, and their coach and their players do a great job at putting them in a position where they're going to flourish," Brenneman said. "These guys are all going to play major league lacrosse next year."
Brenneman, who will most likely join them in the majors next season, showcased his talent under pressure and in front of the crowd of 14,751. The Irish captain completed a hat trick in the team's come-back attempt during the fourth quarter Saturday.
"[Brenneman] was shooting the ball well. He was able to dodge a couple short sticks, and he was able to get in position to score," Earl said. "He's a big aggressive dodger that likes to give a good run at people, and he has one of the best shots in the country. He's just one of the best shooters in the country and that's what makes him one of the [Tewaaraton Trophy nominees]."
The mood in the Notre Dame locker room following the loss made it clear to their co-captain that the Irish were ready to get back on the practice field.
"After the game, it was one of those things where we realized we need to get back to work. We're not invincible; we have a blemish on our record," Brenneman said. "I don't think there's any quit in this team, and I'm excited to figure out what we need to do."
The Irish return to action in their final game Friday at North Carolina at 8 p.m.