Top-ranked Flames’ comeback bid against ALC South Region-leading Tigers foiled in OT
In a showdown between ALC North and South region powers, Liberty University’s No. 1-ranked men’s lacrosse team waged a back-and-forth battle with No. 4 Clemson Friday night at the Liberty Lacrosse Fields before coming up on the short end of the stick, falling 14-13 in overtime.
The Tigers (9-1) allowed the Flames (5-1) to rally from four-goal deficits after the first and second quarters to tie the contest at 9-9 late in the third and 10-10 early in the fourth. Liberty seized its first lead, 11-10, on a phenomenal wraparound finish by graduate attack Carter Elliott, who sprinted from left to right behind the cage with 12:28 remaining in regulation to net his seventh goal for the second game in a row.
“The guys had a lot of fight in them and we had all the opportunities to win it,” Flames Head Coach Kyle McQuillan said. “We’ve got to do better at coming out and starting games, because this whole digging ourselves out of a hole, it feels good when you can come back on a team, but … we put ourselves at such a disadvantage coming out flat like that. We’ve got to fix that, because it’s been too consistent in big games.”
As he had in Monday night’s come-from-behind win over Florida, Elliott ended the scoring drought, this time trimming the deficit to 3-1 with 2:32 left in the first quarter. However, that goal did not spark a turnaround as it had against the Gators as senior attack Garret Brennan pushed the Tigers’ lead to 4-1 with a point-blank finish from the left side less than 40 seconds later and senior middie William Ciccarelli stretched Clemson’s edge to four with 17.7 to go.
The Flames started the second quarter on attack with freshman middie Will Geary picking up a ground ball and Elliott cashing in off an assist from sophomore middie Keaton Mohs.
After a Tigers turnover, Geary picked up a loose ball in the top of the box and finished with a bouncing shot to pull the Flames back within 5-3 at the 12:45 mark of the second quarter. Then, just a minute and a half later, Elliott completed his hat trick and cut the deficit to 5-4.
Clemson answered less than 30 seconds later when Brennan rifled a shot from the left side, padding the lead to 6-4 before sophomore middie Nick Gephart received a behind-the-back pass from senior attack John Holcomb and sent a submarine-stye shot into the top-right corner at the 8:29 mark.
Elliott struck again at the 5:41 mark, unleashing an incredible shot from the top of the box under close Clemson coverage that ripped into the top of the net, slicing the Tigers’ lead to 7-5.
But Clemson ended the half with back-to-back goals, the second after a Flames’ turnover on the offensive end as Ciccarelli cashed in with a running shot from just right of the cage with 2:04 remaining.
Mohs drew the Flames back within 9-6 with a beautiful spin move and finish as he fell to the turf with 13:25 left in the third. Then, after Liberty trapped and stole the ball back with a check on the right sideline, senior attack Cameron Carter capitalized quickly on a high shot from close range off an entry feed from senior middie Thomas Pinel.
Reynolds made a spectacular save and quick outlet pass to Geary for a fast-break finish by senior attack Cooper Branham off an assist from Mohs, trimming the gap to 9-8. Then, senior middie Ryan O’Connor knotted the game at 9 by finishing a shot through the left side. After Clemson reclaimed the lead, Mohs retied the contest at 10 with a bouncing shot from the right side less than a minute into the fourth.
Elliott’s wraparound finish lifted Liberty to its first lead, but Clemson answered quickly, with Cicarelli netting the equalizer 30 seconds later before Mohs converted a running finish from the right side on the other end, putting the Flames back on top, 12-11, with just under 10 minutes to go.
Clemson converted a putback of a shot blocked by Reynolds, retying the contest at 12, before Reynolds smothered a backhanded wraparound attempt near the right post and Mohs netted the go-ahead goal with 56 seconds to play.
Tigers middie Jacob Magelssen tied it at 13-13 with 27 seconds to go by uncorking a shot from the top-left side of the box before Reynolds made a game-preserving save with 4.5 seconds left, forcing the 4-minute, sudden-death overtime period.
Clemson had a high-percentage shot hit the lower-left post before Geary sparked a fast break the other way. However, an unsportsmanlike penalty for a dangerous dive into the crease by O’Connor put the Flames in a man-down situation for a minute and the Tigers converted the game-winner on another rebound. of an initial stop by Reynolds.
“We were up late but couldn’t win a faceoff in those last couple minutes and obviously put ourselves kind of behind the 8 ball in going man-down in overtime,” McQuillan said. “Any time you dive toward the goalie, they deem that a dangerous play, even if you score. It was a very unfortunate penalty at a very important time in the game, and to Ryan’s credit, he made the save and it was an unlucky bounce, and sometimes in overtime, that’s all it takes. Two of their last three goals came that way.”
He said the Flames need to put four quarters together consistently against high-level opponents.
“We’re just pursuing a full game, four quarters of good lacrosse and we’ve had moments, but we’ve got to be more consistent than we’ve been,” McQuillan said. “I don’t want to say that we gave the game to Clemson, because they took advantage of the opportunities that were given to them, but we did not do anything to help ourselves. We had lots of opportunities late to win that game and couldn’t get it done.”
The Flames will return to the Liberty Lacrosse Fields this Sunday at 1 p.m. for a first-ever meeting with Indiana before traveling to Philadelphia over Spring Break for a game against new ALC North rival Temple University next Friday.
“We’ve got to have a short-term memory and move on pretty quickly,” McQuillan said.
He anticipates a potential rematch with Clemson in the May 1 ALC Championship final at City Stadium in Lynchburg, which would likely be as competitive as Friday night’s contest, and not as one-sided as last spring’s inaugural tournament title match, a 17-8 Liberty victory.
“That game was a bit of an anomaly,” McQuillan said. “I don’t anticipate being able to have that level of success against Clemson, especially with how many talented players they have. We know we’ll see them again, and we know the game that we play them the next time is going to be more meaningful than this.”
By Ted Allen/Staff Writer