Men’s lacrosse swarms top-ranked Yellow Jackets in first half, fends off comeback bid
For the first time in program history, Liberty University’s men’s lacrosse team upset a No. 1-ranked opponent, holding off former SELC rival Georgia Tech, 12-9, in a game played late Saturday afternoon at a neutral site in Mooresville, N.C.
“The guys played excellent lacrosse,” Flames Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. “Going into halftime with a 9-4 lead, we knew Georgia Tech, as strong as they are, would make some adjustments and they did, but we were able to regulate the highs and lows and momentum swings. We knew how dangerous Georgia Tech could be and how quickly they could score goals, but we were able to control the clock and control the pace of the game in the second half.”
Junior midfielder Keaton Mohs returned from an injury to pace the Flames with three goals and three assists, and graduate Cooper Branham added three goals to spark the attack. Senior midfielder Cameron Carter netted two goals and distributed one assist, and freshman attack Luke Branham contributed two goals to help provide secondary scoring that made the difference.
“For us to score nine goals in the first half against the No. 1 team in the country, which is always a very formidable opponent — especially on the defensive side of the ball — was a great start,” McQuillan said, noting that the No. 4-ranked Flames (5-1) had as many goals in the first half as the Yellow Jackets (8-1) finished with for the game. “I definitely would have liked to have seen more offensive production in the second half, when we were not as flashy … and content to control the pace and maintain our (advantage).”
Junior goalie Eric Warnstrom made 16 saves in the contest to help keep the Flames in front, with help from senior defender Ryan O’Connor, who had three ground-ball pickups and forced two turnovers, and junior defender Matt Walker (four ground balls).
“Ric had a fantastic game and made a lot of great saves, and our defense deserves a lot of credit for his success,” McQuillan said. “Our 10-man ride was effective, and we were able to surprise them with some things we were doing defensively. We have a lot of talented defensive players and they forced Georgia Tech into some difficult shooting situations by taking away the inside of the field and anything that’s close.”
Offensively, Liberty capitalized on its chances in the first half, especially, and freshman Lance Bruno and graduate Ethan Bohannon combined to win nine of 25 faceoffs to give the Flames a fighting chance in the possession battle.
“Our guys were playing really fundamentally sound lacrosse and making some really great shots,” McQuillan said, noting that getting Mohs and sophomore middie Peyton Doyle, a transfer from NCAA Division I Sienna, back from injury was key. “I thought we matched up really well. We were super fortunate to come into the game relatively healthy and having our full arsenal of guys available to us. Georgia Tech has a ton of players, and a great team, but I felt we had a game plan to be successful.”
The Flames will have a couple days to rest and recover for their spring break trip to Provo, Utah, where they will challenge No. 11 Utah Valley (7-0) on Thursday at 9 p.m. EST and perennial MCLA power BYU (6-1), ranked No. 8, on Saturday at 6 p.m. EST.
“Beating the No. 1 team in the country, after having that loss against (No. 2) Virginia Tech (on Feb. 19), shows our team is getting better and better every week,” McQuillan said. “With today’s game kicking off our whole month of March on the road, followed by this trip out west and games against (defending MCLA champion) South Carolina and Clemson, there will be some good tests for us over the next few weeks (and) I am more optimistic than ever that we’ll be able to contend for our first national championship.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer