No. 2 Flames overcome No. 9 Utah Valley on last-second putback by Newman
A backhanded finish by freshman attack Bennett Newman with 4.1 seconds remaining in regulation lifted Liberty University’s No. 2-ranked men’s lacrosse team to a dramatic 12-11 victory over No. 9 host Utah Valley on Thursday night in front of a magnificent mountain backdrop in Orem, Utah.
The Flames, who arrived in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, showed no jetlag or effects from the high altitude, with the elevation at the field at 4,549 feet above sea level.
“There is definitely an elevation piece you have to contend with,” Liberty Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. “You’ve got to be able to travel and play good teams on the road. We would like to do it with style and play effectively, but sometimes you have to find a way to win. This was a gritty win.”
The Flames (6-1) had moved up two spots in this week’s MCLA rankings by upsetting top-ranked, undefeated Georgia Tech at a neutral site on Saturday. The Wolverines (7-1), meanwhile, had climbed into the top 10 by posting 15-10 and 15-5 wins at Southern California and Grand Canyon last week.
Liberty junior midfielder Keaton Mohs and goalie Eric Warnstrom were rewarded with MCLA Division I Warrior Player of the Week and PEARL Goalie of the Week honors, respectively. Both came up big for the Flames against the Wolverines, with Warnstrom making 17 saves (60.7 percent) and Mohs scoring twice and setting up two other goals.
“Warnstrom had a fantastic game,” McQuillan said.
Utah Valley took a quick 1-0 lead when senior midfielder Preston Burbidge capitalized on a Liberty turnover in its own end with a sharp-angled shot from the right side into the top of the netting less than 30 seconds after the opening faceoff. Soon after that, freshman attack Mason Peterson made it 2-0 with a running shot from the right side of the box.
The Flames got on the scoreboard when graduate midfielder Cameron Carter (3 goals, 1 assist) received a pass from behind the Wolverines’ cage and darted from left to right across the top of the box before firing a shot into the top-right corner.
Midway through the second quarter, Burbidge stretched the Utah Valley lead to 4-1 by ripping a shot from the top left side. But Mohs cut the deficit to 4-2 by taking the ball out from behind the goal and threading a shot from a seemingly impossible angle into the back of the net. Then, late in the first half, sophomore attack Will Geary (3G, 1A) emerged from behind the left post and uncorked an underhanded shot into the top-right corner of the cage.
Moments later, Mohs sent a pass back to Geary from the right post to the top left side of the box, where he fired the equalizer, making it 4-4. However, the Wolverines struck back in the final minute of the first half when junior middie Nathan Huntsman launched a wide-open overhand shot from the top of the box into the upper netting for a 5-4 advantage.
“Going into halftime with only four goals, we’ve got to play better earlier,” McQuillan said. “Against Georgia Tech, we came out fast and came out aggressive and we didn’t do that tonight.”
After the sun set behind the Wasach mountain range surrounding the stadium, Wolverines sophomore middie Ty Armstrong started the second-half scoring by depositing a shot from deep in the center of the box past Warnstrom, stretching the lead to 6-4.
Flames junior attack Braden Landry (2G, 1A) answered on the other end with a point-blank finish off an entry feed from Carter to make it a 6-5 contest before Geary retied it at 6 by unleashing a rocket of a shot from the top left side of the box.
The Flames were awarded possession for a Wolverines infraction on the ensuing faceoff, but Landry was called for diving into the crease after taking a pass down low from Geary, negating his apparent duck-under score despite having a Wolverine defender land on top of him.
Instead, Utah Valley reclaimed a 7-6 lead on a powerful shot by Cole Felis from the top of the box before Carter knotted it at 7 with a catch and release shot off an assist from Mohs from behind the left side of the cage. However, on the resulting faceoff, Jacob Lundin stole the ball from Flames graduate middie Ethan Bohannon on the faceoff and proceeded to take it downfield for an unassisted score on a running shot from the right side.
Flames graduate attack Cooper Branham finally got in on the scoring action, tying the contest at 8 with a smooth drive past defenders on the left side and a bounce shot finish from near the endline. After a great sliding save by Warnstrom, who returned to the goalmouth just in time following a Flames turnover deep in the defensive zone, Carter took a bounce pass from Landry and gave Liberty its first lead, 9-8, with a shot from up top.
Warstrom made saves of low and high Utah Valley shots at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth before Liberty extended its lead to 10-8 on a spectacular submarine shot by Mohs assisted by Geary.
After a defensive stop, the Flames padded their advantage to 11-8 with an incredible long-range outlet pass by senior defender Ryan O’Connor to a streaking Landry, who caught it deep in the Wolverines’ zone and put it away into an open net.
Huntsman responded with a difficult shot from up top into the lower-left corner of the cage and the Wolverines pounced on the ensuing faceoff before Burbidge fired a long-range shot from the left side into the upper netting nine seconds later, drawing them back within 11-10. Then, UVU junior attack Branson Wood received a pass from behind the cage and tied the score from close range.
In the closing seconds, the Flames regained possession and worked for the final shot. After Geary’s initial effort was blocked into the air by Utah Valley’s goalie, Newman picked up the loose ball in the middle and capitalized on the game-winner past the drawn-out goalie into an open net.
“It wasn’t pretty, but against Utah Valley, which is a good team, a gritty team that hadn’t lost yet, I was proud of the guys for pulling out the win.” McQuillan said. “We didn’t necessarily play our best and we gave them a lot of opportunities to capitalize on. But the guys dug deep and were able to push back, put up a defensive stand, and get the game-winner.”
Liberty will return to action on Saturday at 6 p.m. EST in nearby Provo, Utah, where they will challenge No. 8 BYU, which edged the Flames, 12-11, in last season’s Midnight Mayhem matchup in Lynchburg.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer