By Cameron Meyer
Boston University (12-3-4) (7-1-1 PL) and Lafayette’s (9-6-6) (4-2-3 PL) face-off in the 2023 Patriot League Championship was a battle in the truest sense—a game defined by physicality and a bend-don’t-break attitude from both teams. In this battle of attrition, though, the Terriers got the Leopards to break enough and held defensively firm enough to win 1-0, granting them their first ever Patriot League Championship.
With the win, the Terriers also clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015.
“Today’s a special moment and I’m really proud of [the team],” said BU head coach and Patriot League Coach of the Year Kevin Nylen postgame. “I’m really proud to be a part of this. I’m at a loss for words for once in my life.”
Almost from the first whistle, challenges from both teams started to fly in, which went on to be a sign of what was to come. In the early stages of the second half though, midfielder Quinn Matulis was able to create a couple chances for the Terriers between foul stoppages.
His best moment, and the Terriers best chance of the half, came in the 10th minute. The graduate student made a marauding run through several Leopards at midfield before unleashing a strike from the top of the box that forced a brilliant diving save from goalkeeper Griffin Huff.
Lafayette responded to Matulis’ chance with a better one of their own in the 25th minute. Forward Hale Lombard, the Patriot League’s leading goal scorer, found himself on the end of a tidy Lawrence Aydlett ball and was one-on-one with Francesco Montali. The Patriot League’s Goalkeeper of the Year was able to narrow the angle for the senior enough to force Lombard to put his effort wide of the post.
Going into halftime, both teams were scoreless. They held strong defensively, both only allowing a single shot on goal. During the break, Nylen said he knew a single goal could change the game and that he knew that Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year Eitan Rosen could be the one to make the difference.
“I said to [Rosen] today at halftime—I said you make sure number 20 knows that you’re the Offensive Player of the Year. I said you better go finish one,” Nylen said.
And that he did.
After Lafayette tested the BU net early in the first half when Aydlett hit the post in the 55th minute, Rosen got a chance to give his team an advantage in the 65th. Senior forward Andrew Rent found Rosen one-on-one with a Leopard defender in the box. He worked himself an angle at goal and fired towards the back post and, as he’s done eight other times this season, he found the back of the net, sending the crowd at Nickerson Field into raptures.
“I scored that goal a few times this year and it’s really muscle memory,” Rosen said. “I don’t know exactly what [Nylen] said [at halftime], but it motivated me for sure and it worked.”
From there, the game devolved into a complete cage match.
Right after the goal, Lombard started to get into an argument with BU fans in the stands. Rosen retaliated against the forward and both received yellow cards to the elation of the Nickerson crowd.
“One of the main things we say is protect home, so [when] a guy wants to turn around and start to talk to our fans, our people, our community, I don’t like that,” Rosen said. “In that stage of the game, we have the crowd on our side.”
There were hardly any patterns of play in the final 25 minutes of play, just legs colliding and sounds of the referee’s whistle. Throughout the game there were 41 fouls called. This lack of cohesive play is usually a game state that Lafayette thrives in: they lead the Patriot League in fouls and yellow cards.
In the remaining minutes of the game, Lafayette played direct and tried to use their physicality to their advantage—lofting balls into the box from corners, throw-ins, and free-kicks. This posed a challenge for Montali who more than once was fouled off corner kicks aimed directly at him.
Even with the chaos in the box in the later stages of the second half, Montali was able to keep the ball out of his net.
“They want to cause havoc—put a bunch of guys in the box, put balls up—so I was just trying to be aggressive,” Montali said. “As a backline, we dealt with it well and the midfielders came down to help. It was really a full team set up and we prepared for it.”
Rosen was a little less humble when evaluating his keeper’s performance. According to the forward, Montali had a “perfect game”.
Once the final whistle sounded, celebrations ensued in Boston. Fans stormed the field and the Terriers hugged and jumped with each other in triumph. They had won BU’s first conference title since 2008.
“There’s not been many better feelings,” Nylen said about winning the Patriot League title. “That’s love and passion for me. I love what I do and I love who I do it with […] I hope we made every BU alum proud.”
The Terriers will find out their next opponent on Monday when the NCAA Bracket is announced.
“I’m just glad we’re going to be back on the field Monday,” Nylen said. “Every game here on out is a final. But I know our guys will be ready.”