No. 3 Flames heat up after cold start; comeback bid thwarted by No. 1 BYU, 12-11
The highest-ranked showdown in Liberty University men’s lacrosse history, and the game of the week in MCLA Division I, lived up to its billing as No. 1 BYU, the defending MCLA National Invitational champion, withstood a furious comeback bid by the No. 3 Flames to hold on for a 12-11 “Midnight Mayhem” triumph early Saturday morning at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields.
“They came in and they were firing on all cylinders and it took us some time to find our momentum,” Liberty Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. “We didn’t play our best. We played good, but we’re capable of great, and unfortunately, we didn’t get to that tonight. We had moments, but we’ve got to play four quarters of greatness, especially against a team like that. We proved we can easily play with the best team in the country, but there’s a big difference between playing a close game and being able to win.”
Surprisingly, considering the tight final score, the Flames (10-2) dominated a number of statistical categories, outshooting the Cougars, 58-38, picking up 45 ground balls to 22 for BYU (12-0), and winning 18 out of 26 faceoffs, including 11 out of 13 by senior middie Cole Jankowsky. However, Cougars goalie Mason Moon made 16 saves and BYU’s defense held Liberty to 0-for-7 on extra-man opportunities while the Cougars capitalized on two of four chances themselves.
Liberty outscored BYU, 4-2 in the third quarter and 3-1 in the fourth, but couldn’t net the tying goal in the final four and a half minutes.
“Defense did everything we could have asked of them,” McQuillan said. “They had nine goals at half and we only allowed three goals in the second half and that gave us more than a fighting chance. Unfortunately, on the offensive side of the ball, we had lots of really good looks, lots of opportunities, and I think we can shoot better than what we did tonight.”
Liberty came out on the offensive from the opening faceoff and after Cooper Branham (3 goals) had an outside shot hit the crossbar, sophomore middie Keaton Mohs (2 goals, 1 assist) put away a running shot down the left side of the box for a 1-0 lead with 10:53 left in the first quarter.
BYU countered with Seth Garff rifling a shot from the right side of the box after a teammate was taken down by a high check in the left side, knotting the contest at 1-1 and putting the Cougars on a man advantage at the 9:59 mark.
Later, after Mohs was called for crosschecking, BYU capitalized on the man-up situation with a submarine shot frpm a seemingly impossible angle on the right side, lifting the Cougars to a 2-1 lead.
Then, with 4:59 to play in the first, 10 made a spin move at the top of the box and ripped a shot into the upper netting. 18 then stretched the lead to 4-1 with an incredible finish on a bounce shot as he fell down in the left side of the box. 20 had his goal disallowed after he was called for diving into the crease.
After a steal by Branham on transition and a turnover on the ensuing outlet pass, Andrew Freedman BYU put away a one-on-one shot with Liberty goalie Ryan Reynolds, extending the Cougars’ advantage to 5-1 and prompting Liberty to call timeout. The Flames responded with a goal by Branham set up by Mohs with 15 seconds left in the first quarter.
Liberty drew back within 5-3 when senior attack Cameron Carter ripped a shot from the top of the box less than two minutes into the second quarter. But the Flames couldn’t cut the deficit to one goal and the Cougars stretched it to 6-3 with a running bounce shot by Max Roberts down the left side.
Mohs was called for a high check and Garff again cashed in with another sharp-angled shot from the right side, padding the Cougars’ advantage to 7-3 and prompting another Flames timeout with 4:35 left in the half.
Following a defensive stop by BYU, Carter stopped the bleeding and trimmed the deficit to 8-4 with a perimeter shot from the right side just under the crossbar. However, the Cougars’ Alton Taylor took advantage of a Liberty turnover at midfield by finishing from close range with a dagger 5 seconds before halftime.
Moon made a spectacular save of a running shot from point-blank range by Mohs to start the third quarter before graduate attack Carter Elliott had a perimeter shot from the left side hit the post.
“Their goalie made some pretty incredible saves tonight, and defensively, they were aggressive and their poles were just fast and big,” McQuillan said.
Back-to-back goals by Branham (2 goals) and Elliott, his only of the game, brought the Flames back within 9-6. But Caleb Willes converted on the other end after picking up a ground ball and rifling a shot past Reynolds.
Thomas Pinel (2 goals) pulled the Flames back within 11-7 by finishing a feed from fellow senior middie Ryan O’Connor (2 assists) with 2:39 left in the third quarter. Then, with 1:01 to go, Mohs emerged from behind the left post and deposited a shot past Moon to make it an 11-8 contest.
Two penalties against BYU and one against Liberty gave the Flames a man advantage, but Moon snuffed the Flames’ attack with another save from point-blank range.
“The goaltending was definitely a difference-maker in tonight’s game,” McQuillan said. “We’ve got a great goalie and Ryan’s been fantastic for us, and really made some big saves for us in the second half. But it just comes down to being able to play four quarters of great lacrosse, and I know we’re capable of that. It just took us a little bit of time to get going. That first quarter is really what hurt us.”
BYU executed its set offense to perfection, generating a series of shots before Jake Halversen took a cross-field pass from behind the cage and fired a shot into the upper netting. However, the Flames struck back to within 12-9 on a fast-break finish by freshman middie Evan Shock.
Pinel put away a putback off a driving shot by Mohs in the right side of the box, making it a 12-10 game with 12:28 to go. Reynolds saved a bounce shot by Gavin Crist and the Flames cleared with Elliott taking it across midfield and the Flames narrowly missing two quality shots, the last a bounce shot by freshman middie Will Geary.
Branham barely missed a shot in the box and Elliott’s shot from the top of the box was saved by Moon before BYU committed a rare turnover on transition and the Flames capitalized on the other end with Branham making a maneuver around a defender and unleashing a sidearmed slingshot from the top left side of the box, cutting the deficit to 12-11 with 4:34 to play.
Reynolds (9 saves) stopped a high-powered shot by Halverson and the Flames reclaimed possession with a few chances to tie, but couldn’t find a way to finish.
“Guys showed a lot of fight, and we put ourselves in position to tie that thing up,” McQuillan said. “We had a ton of opportunities and hit a lot of pipes. It was very close. Unfortunately, it just didn’t fall our way there late.”
The Cougars recovered a loose ball and ran out the clock on the offensive end, despite Reynolds coming out of the cage to serve as an extra defender, attempting to create a steal.
Liberty will conclude its regular season next Friday night at Virginia Tech in a battle between the ALC North and South region leaders.
“The ALC (Tournament, set for April 29-May 1 at City Stadium) is still up for grabs, and we’ve still got the No. 1 seed, so everything we want to accomplish is still ahead of us,” McQuillan said.
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer