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    February 19, 2022 Lynchburg, Va. RSS |

    A diving game-winner by graduate attack Carter Elliott and several spectacular saves by graduate goalie Ryan Reynolds helped Liberty University’s men’s lacrosse team open its 2022 regular season with a dramatic 9-8 triumph over SouthEastern Lacrosse Conference (SELC) power South Carolina on Saturday night at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.

    Seventh-ranked USC (1-2) still leads the all-time series, 4-3, but the Flames (1-0) ended a two-game skid against the Gamecocks. South Carolina eliminated Liberty in the 2019 SELC and MCLA DI National Championships before going on to claim both crowns, the last to be contested before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “Another really hard-fought, close, back-and-forth battle (against USC),” McQuillan said. “I think regardless of when we play, that’s what it’s going to be and just fortunate to come out on top today. It was a really good way to start off the season against the defending national champs, especially after the fact that they went into Blacksburg (Friday) and knocked off Virginia Tech (12-10).”

    Liberty sophomore midfielder Keaton Mohs’ first shot bounced over the cage and USC freshman attack Johnny Stanton responded on the other end with a fast-break finish into an open net at the 13:34 mark, with Reynolds pulled out of position on the play.

    Reynolds make back-to-back saves of high-percentage shots by the Gamecocks before the Flames capitalized on a fast break opportunity, with Mohs receiving a long outlet at midfield and putting away a give-and-go assist from Elliott (2 goals, 2 assists).

    Sophomore middie Keaton Mohs penetrates through the USC defense.

    Mohs finished an assist from senior middie Thomas Poucher-Pinel from the left side at the 3:45 mark before senior middie Cameron Carter put away a pass from Elliott from point-blank range in front and senior attack Cooper Branham (3G, 1A) stretched Liberty’s lead to 4-1 off an assist from Mohs with 46.5 seconds to play in the first period.

    Stanton finished a feed from USC senior attack Andrew Pizzo on the other end, cutting the deficit to 4-2 six seconds after the ensuing faceoff. Alex Petruch (3G, 1A) then stole an outlet pass and cut Liberty’s edge to 4-3 at the 12:37 mark by firing a shot from 20 yards out into an open net as the Flames’ 10-man ride backfired.

    Branham pushed the lead to 5-3 by finishing an assist from Elliott with a sharp-angled shot from the left side, but he was called for unsportsmanlike conduct after the goal and Patrick Reilly pulled the Gamecocks within 5-4 by converting on the man-up opportunity.

    Then, with 6:46 left Pizzo made a diving catch and finish of a feed from Petruch deep in the crease, but the goal was disallowed as the Flames were called for two penalties before the score. USC went on a two-man advantage for 30 seconds, and capitalized with the tying goal at the 5:59 mark.

    South Carolina seized its first lead, 6-5, just 56 seconds before halftime when Pizzo converted a fast-break finish off a pass from Connor Griffin. Then, with 11:10 left in the third quarter, the Gamecocks stretched the gap to 7-5 on a finish by Dermot Quinn in the box.

    The Flames trimmed the deficit to 7-6 on a goal by Elliott assisted by Mohs at the 5:04 mark before Mohs set up Branham for the equalizer on a fast-break finish with 1.8 seconds left in the quarter.

    USC burned the Flames’ 10-man ride for a third time in the contest to reclaim the lead early in the fourth before Liberty freshman middie William Geary tied it back up with a running bounce shot from the top of the box with 11:19 to go.

    “A lot of credit to them,” McQuillan said. “They were opportunistic and took advantage of a lot of our mistakes. Our 10-man ride, although it was effective, a few times, definitely, it was a bit of a liability for us as well. Usually, this early in the season teams struggle with the 10-man and I thought (USC) did a pretty good job.”

    Cooper Branham (22) celebrates a Liberty goal with Carter Elliott (24) in the second half.

    Elliott then showed his athleticism and put the Flames on top to stay by emerging from behind the cage and scoring the game-winning goal on a sliding shot from just right of the circle.

    “I’m always a little bit nervous when guys like to attack from X and making sure they get out and get enough of an angle there, but Carter’s one of the most elusive guys we have and the fact that he was able to get that was awesome to see,” McQuillan said.

    Reynolds made three clutch saves down the stretch to preserve the Flames’ one-goal advantage.

    “They had a great goalie who made some great saves that kept the game tight, but I think they’d say the same thing about our goaltending from Ryan as well tonight,” said McQuillan, who noted that Reynolds’ defense also played exceptionally in front of him. “We came out in the third (quarter) and set the tone on defense, and showed that we weren’t going to give up easy goals in those settled 6-on-6 situations. We want to be aggressive and two guys, middies Will Geary and Remy Newton, played a ton of defense tonight and were just phenomenal. They didn’t give up anything tonight.”

    McQuillan and his coaching staff will have plenty of video to analyze from the opener, which was streamed live on ESPN+.

    “We definitely saw a lot of improvement from Roanoke (College, a 12-7 exhibition setback on Feb. 7) to now, but I know that I’m going to be watching the game tonight and identifying a ton of stuff that we still need to work on,” McQuillan said.

    The Flames, who awarded returning players and alumni rings in a pre-game ceremony for winning the inaugural Atlantic Lacrosse Conference (ALC) Championships last spring, will host two fellow ALC opponents next weekend — Pittsburgh on Saturday at 5 p.m. and West Virginia on Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.

    By Ted Allen/Staff Writer; Video produced by Liberty Flames Sports Network

    Midfielders Cameron Carter (with ball) and Keaton Mohs (5) sparked the Flames’ transition game against the Gamecocks.