Joe Varello’s Last-Second Goal Seals Storybook Ending, Navy Stuns ’Cuse

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – Joe Varello Sr. walked into his seats in the Carrier Dome with an eager uneasiness. Watching his sons, Joe and Danny, would be one of the unique experiences of his life. But when he woke up this morning, he experienced something he never had before. He knew one of them would lose.

When the final buzzer sounded, the entire Varello family and its friends, clad in personalized Syracuse vs. Navy shirts, rose to its feet, watching as the two brothers embraced amid the chaos surrounding them.

“This is going to be something we’re talking about for the rest of our lives,” Joe Varello said.

Gold jerseys ran through the field, leaping as No. 14 Navy knocked off No. 9 Syracuse, 13-12,  in the Carrier Dome. This Saturday was a special day for the Varello family, as Danny and Joseph joined a brotherhood of sibling face-off specialists against each other. For much of the game it appeared as if the battle wouldn’t impact the final score. Everyone around the family wanted a 50-50 split, but as time expired, the Carrier Dome watched the elder sibling score a game-winning goal in what may be Navy’s biggest win of the season, because Navy won in a fashion it rarely has this season, by scoring from the unlikeliest of players.

“For the game to end the way it ended,” Navy head coach Rick Sowell said, “you just can’t make this up.”

“I’ll probably remember that for a long time,” Syracuse head coach John Desko added.

Entering Saturday’s contest, Navy (9-4, 7-1 Patriot League) won one game against a non-conference opponent, a 7-5 win at home against UMBC. When the game opened, it looked as if it may be a rout. Despite Danny taking the edge in face-offs to open, the Navy zone defense forced Syracuse to settle for outside, inefficient shots that Navy goalie Ryan Kern plucked out of the air.

On the other end, Syracuse (7-5, 4-0 ACC) couldn’t replicate Navy’s sturdiness. The Midshipmen threaded and bullied their way through SU defenders, finding one-on-one opportunities in front of goalie Dom Madonna.

Navy simply powered through Syracuse twice in a row in the first 15 minutes. To go up 3-1, Navy defensive midfielder David Jones split between Austin Fusco and Brad McKinney at the 30-yard-line before racing toward cage and rifling a shot past Madonna. On the next Navy possession, Jack Ray forced his way through two more Syracuse defenders to score on the doorstep. Ray finished the game with a team-high six points on four goals and two assists.

“I thought Ray had a great day today,” Desko said. “(He) was more of a threat going to the goal than I’d seen in the past.”

At one point in the game, Syracuse subbed in Nick DiPietro for starter Tyson Bomberry to defend Ray. This helped slow Navy for a short period, as Danny took the edge in face-offs and the Syracuse offense generated some opportunities. When the first half ended, Navy and Syracuse were locked at 6-6.

When the second half began, Joe turned his play around. He won four of the first five second-half face-offs, as Navy regained its advantage.

“I was getting frustrated throughout the game,” Joe said. “I told myself you’re not losing to your little brother in front of everyone.”

But that was for naught, because the Midshipmen had no defensive solution for Stephen Rehfuss, who finished the contest with seven points on six assists.

But whereas Syracuse struggled to muster offense without Rehfuss facilitating play, Navy found answers from all over. Down 11-9, the team’s leading scorer, Ryan Wade, who remained silent for the first 55 minutes of the game, found the back of the net in the 56th, and he added an assist 1:30 later.

With Navy on the man-up, Wade found a cutting Christian Daniel for a one-time goal just inches in front of the crease. Daniel did not know if he would see the field in this game. He entered the contest listed as doubtful, and yet, came up with the game-tying goal.

Right when Navy clawed its way back, Syracuse took complete control. Tucker Dordevic notched his first goal of the game with under one minute left, and SU then won the ensuing face-off. The situation looked familiar. The Orange closed out games well against stiff opponents this year such as Duke and Virginia on the road. Ahead one with the ball looked like a win.

But moments after playing hero, Dordevic turned the ball over with 25 seconds remaining as Navy brought out Kern and triple-teamed, leading to a Navy goal at the other end. It was assisted from John Salcedo, someone who had never seen the field this season, Sowell said.

“That can’t happen down the stretch,” Syracuse attackman Brendan Bomberry said.

Heading into the final face-off, Navy’s plan was clear, Joe said, space the wings and let Joe advance the ball himself if he were to beat his brother. He did, scooping the ball straight to himself, and sprinting toward Madonna with Danny draped all over his back.

In four seconds, Joe passed to teammate Jeff Durden, who dropped the ball. Joe scooped the grounder and scored the game-winner in front of a stunned Carrier Dome crowd and even more stunned brother.

With .02 seconds left on the clock for the final face-off, the two brothers dropped their sticks and hugged. While a line of Syracuse helmets dropped, and a streak of gold helmets glistened in the light, the two brothers remained at the face-off X.

“He was my biggest role model growing up,” Danny said in an interview with ESPN following the game. “I just wanted to follow in his footsteps.”

This Saturday, Joe’s steps were just a bit quicker. And that made the difference.

“Once the final whistle blew he was back to being my brother again,” Joe said. “But for the 60 minutes during the game I tried my best to just look at Danny as No. 42 on Syracuse.”

Source: Inside Lacrosse article from April 21, 2018