Fourth-ranked Flames fade down stretch in regular-season-ending clash at No. 2 Virginia Tech
For its second straight showdown between top-five MCLA Division I teams, Liberty University’s No. 4-ranked men’s lacrosse team came up on the short end of the stick, Friday night at No. 2 Virginia Tech, allowing the host Hokies to score the last three goals in an 8-5 setback.
“It was a tight game throughout, and it wasn’t until late, with about 1 minute, 40 seconds left that we went into our raider, end-of-game defense to try to force a turnover, and they got an empty-net goal that all but sealed it,” Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said after the Flames slipped to 10-3 with its first loss to the Hokies (12-1) since 2018.
The contest was tied at 2 after the first quarter, and Liberty only trailed 4-3 at halftime and 7-5 after three quarters before being shut out in the fourth.
“Offensively, our shot selection and shot placement was poor, we did not score on any of our (eight) man-up opportunities, and we made a handful of unforced turnovers in every single quarter,” McQuillan said. “It feels like probably our worst offensive performance for as long as I can remember. It was abysmal and the outcome was not acceptable.”
The Flames were statistically even with the Hokies in every category except the final score, winning 9 out of 17 faceoffs and successfully clearing 20-23 chances out of the defensive zone compared to only 15-20 for Virginia Tech, which held a 43-42 shot advantage. Liberty even dominated in groundball pickups, 42-18, and graduate goalie Ryan Reynolds made 20 saves, three more than the Hokies’ Hunter LeClair.
“There were not a whole lot of positives, except that our defense played strong and Ryan Reynolds played a phenomenal game right out of the gate tonight,” McQuillan said. “Our defense definitely did enough to win the game. If you would have said before the game we were going to hold Virginia Tech to 8 points, I would be confident we would be able to get the job done. Unfortunately, we really let the team down with our offensive production.”
It wasn’t for a lack of opportunities, but the execution wasn’t as precise as McQuillan has come to expect from his normally high-powered attack.
“We had plenty of possessions and opportunities, (but) we didn’t play our systems, and our execution was off,” McQuillan said. “We were getting looks and shots, and their goalie played a great game, very similar to Ryan. He made a couple of spectacular saves, but we just did not change levels on our shots and continued to try to shoot stick-side high over and over again, which made it easy for him. We were just missing the cage a few times on shots should have burying.”
Sophomore middie Keaton Mohs scored the Flames’ first two goals as they seized a 2-1 first-quarter lead before the Hokies responded with three straight scores for the first of two runs that turned the tide in their favor.
Freshman middie Will Geary stopped the bleeding with a goal 1:39 before halftime off an assist from Mohs before Aidan Smith netted the first of his two unassisted goals at the 11:05 mark of the third quarter, stretching Virginia Tech’s lead to 5-3.
Flames graduate attack Carter Elliott knotted the score at 5-5 with back-to-back goals, the first assisted by senior middie Ryan O’Connor. But that was the end of the night for Liberty’s offense, which fell silent down the stretch.
“We felt good coming into this game and had the right mindset and had overcome mistakes made in the BYU game,” McQuillan said. “But tonight, we took a big step in the wrong direction, which is frustrating. Our expectations are super high because we know what we are capable of, and we were far from our best tonight.”
Liberty has two weeks to prepare for the postseason, and a potential rematch with the Hokies in the April 29-May 1 Atlantic Lacrosse Conference (ALC) Tournament at Lynchburg’s City Stadium.
“This was not the way we wanted to end our regular season, but ultimately (the loss) doesn’t change anything, and all of our goals are still in front of us,” McQuillan said. “It’s a matter of whether we want to feel bad for ourselves or learn from our mistakes and get better. We’re definitely going to find out what kind of team we area in the next couple weeks. One game does not define us … but something’s got to change.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer