by Max Freter | MCLA.us
DENVER, Colo. -- Another week, another fantastic lineup of nail-biting lacrosse, which has become the norm in the cardiac conference that is the RMLC.
The juggernauts in Division I continue to trade blows with the best of the west week after week, and so far none of the marquee matchups have disappointed. Colorado, Colorado State, Brigham Young, Utah, and Utah State wrapped up their out-of-conference road trips with one last round of heavyweight fights that showcased the best the league has to offer. Defensive grinds, second half comebacks, overtime winners and last second heartbreakers (literally, the last second) highlighted another heart-pounding weekend of lacrosse.
Let’s dive into it.
Utes Fast Start Halted by Arizona State, Cal
The Utes had a few weeks off after shocking the MCLA with an undefeated start and a monumental upset of then-No. 1 Chapman in their opening contest of the season. The most surprising team in the league returned to action at home in front of a crowd of 2,000 people eagerly awaiting a view of the new-look squad under new management.
Utah hosted Arizona State, a team desperate for a quality win after recent losses to Colorado State and BYU. The energy was alive for the home team on Friday night, but Arizona State had the final say as they walked away with a 14-11 victory, handing the Utes their first loss on the season. Arizona State exposed the Ute defense early and found several open looks on the doorstep, leaving goaltender Quinton Swinney defenseless on several occasions.
The Sun Devils scored in the closing seconds of the first half to take an 8-5 lead into halftime and silenced a raucous crowd. Utah’s Aaron Fjelsted, Luke Graney, Dallas Reed and Gus Colonna combined to score six goals in the second half to lead the charge offensively, but unforced turnovers and lack of production at the center X eventually doomed the Utes.
Coach Holman explained that the loss helped humble his players and open their eyes to areas of opportunity.
“I think Friday night was a great learning experience for our program,” he said. “It’s hard to teach young men to do things differently when you’re winning, so I think after this game it will be easier to get our message across because they see now the consequences of those in-game mistakes.”
Unfortunately for Holman, those mistakes would follow his team into their next contest on the road against another surprise team in 2017, the California Golden Bears.
The potent Utah offense was shut down from the get-go and Cal took advantage early, pummeling the Utes in the first quarter with five straight goals. Reed scored the only points for Utah in the first half in a 7-2 game at intermission. Reed and Ian Elson would get two quick goals to start the half and bring the lead within four, but Cal poured it on with another five goals to close out the dominant performance at 13-5.
Utah has a chance to stop the bleeding on Wednesday against Stanford in the last game of their California road trip.
Buffaloes Redeem Themselves, Rams Post Winless Weekend
Colorado started off in San Luis Obispo on Friday night against Cal Poly in a grinding battle that would have made defensive gurus like Buddy Ryan and Dick LeBeau grin with joy. Colorado was forced to adjust to a slow-paced, drawn-out possession style of play, which resulted in them relying heavily on the other side of the field to keep the Buffs afloat.
The backline of Nick Cottrell, Penn Lukens and Blake Sandman closed the gate on the Mustangs with a terrific display of team defense along with solid minutes from goalies Jake Siegel and Jensen Makarov. Hart Wise broke the ice at the end of the first quarter with their lone goal of the half off a feed from Ben Wharton. Cal Poly notched two quick goals to start the second and held a 2-1 edge at the end of 30 minutes.
The scoring malaise continued in the second half with neither team having an answer offensively, often thwarted by great saves by both goaltenders. The mustangs mustered one goal in the third but were outdone by tallies by Colin MacIlvennie and Carter Esqueda to even things up at 3-3 heading into the final quarter.
The Buffs continued to give the 2016 runners-up chances at pulling away with costly penalties late in the game, but the man-down unit stood tall and Makarov staved off the Mustang offense to keep the game tied. Cal Poly finally broke the tie at the 6:30 mark in the fourth with a goal that looked to be the game winner in a match where goals were at an all-time premium. However, MacIlvennie put on his rally-cap and scored the tying goal and the eventual game-winner in the second overtime, giving his squad their biggest win of the season.
“As a team, we really needed that win,” Colorado coach John Galvin said. “We went back to having some tough practices after Arizona because our guys needed to understand that this is a team effort. I think they responded well to that.”
After trudging through a slugfest on Friday night, Colorado’s offense was clicking from the opening faceoff against UCSB on Sunday. The Buffs only led 5-3 at halftime, but the shots on goal heavily favored the visitors as seen by the Gaucho keeper’s 11 saves in the opening half alone.
John Roach, MacIlvennie and Wharton were able to get past the hot goaltender and continued to push their up-tempo style that was nonexistent in their game against Cal Poly. Broderick Vitale went a perfect 9-for-9 on faceoffs in the third quarter and his offense did their job with five goals in the period from MacIlvennie, Davis Barker, Esqueda and defensive middie Michael Simboski to take control of the game at 10-6.
The Gauchos, knowing very well after their miracle win on Friday that no game is over until the clock runs out, kept it within three for most of the fourth quarter. MacIlvennie would pickup another hat trick on the weekend with a goal in the fourth and fellow linemate Jake Gonzalez would tally one of his own for the 13-8 final.
While Colorado was in a heavyweight fight in SLO, Colorado State also found themselves in a defensive battle against UCSB that same night in Santa Barbara. The Rams, coming off of a 9-8 heart-stopper against Minnesota in Loveland, once again found themselves down early to an unexpected opponent and had to rely on late game heroics to stay alive.
CSU’s defense came out laser focused, as they harassed the Gaucho offense with caused turnovers and saves from first-half goaltender Jake Warner holding the opposing team scoreless after the opening period. The tides turned in the second as the UCSB shooters found their rhythm, rattling off five straight and holding the Rams scoreless on the other end of the field, leaving the visitors from Ft. Collins shocked and trailing 5-1 at half.
Grant Woods cut the deficit down by one with a goal in the third before the furious rally began in the final period. Dominic Santor and Colin Zines scored back-to-back tallies to pull within one and the CSU defense regained their hold on the Gauchos to setup a fantastic finish. It appeared to be another incredible comeback as Zines scored the tying goal with under a minute in regulation followed by a faceoff win, but the possession came up empty leaving the crowd in Santa Barbara certain the game would go into extra time.
With only seconds on the clock, UCSB hurled a shot from midfield that found it’s way into the back of the net as the clock hit triple zeros, leaving the Rams completely stunned as their efforts fell short due to one of the most bizarre plays we may see this season.
CSU had one last shot at redemption before leaving California and knew it would not come easy against Cal Poly. Both squads entered the game fielding two of the top defenses in the country, but neither team’s aggressive style of play was popular among the referees that day. Both teams combined for six penalties in the first half allowing both man-up units ample opportunity to put shots on cage.
The Rams and the Mustangs arm wrestled in the first two quarters, matching each other goal-for-goal and crosscheck-for-crosscheck to a 6-6 tie at half. The back and forth affair continued until the Mustangs strung together a five goal run, galloping to a 13-8 lead. CSU would get one back off the crosse of Brian McGhie, but two more Cal Poly goals would cement their victory at 15-10 sending the Rams back to Fort Collins winless on the weekend.
BYU Splits Southern California Trip
It’s only fitting that one of the top two teams falter in what has been a tumultuous few weeks for the poll leaders. BYU took over the No. 2 spot in the national rankings after dethroning the two previous placeholders in Cal Poly and Grand Canyon. It was their turn to defend the position in the last of their three consecutive trips outside of Provo.
Once again, being crowned as second best doomed the team who carried the title as the Cougars dropped their opening contest, 10-7 to a Chapman squad desperate for a quality win. The defending champions made a statement that they will not go quietly into the night after unexpected early season losses.
Connor Bernal and Winston Farley started things off for BYU with a goal apiece for an early 2-0 Lead. The Panthers retaliated with a three goal run of their own to take the lead away and never relinquish it. The Cougars had difficulty stringing together consecutive goals due to penalties and turnovers caused by the preseason No. 1. Goals by Tanner Johnson, Andrew Bertha, and Chris Severenson brought the game to a seven-all tie with an entire quarter remaining, but the Panthers buckled down on defense and netted three more to secure the upset at home.
Coach Matt Schneck explained that sloppy play and exhaustion from another long road trip played a key factor in their loss on Friday.
“I don’t think it was a question of whether we were fired up, we just played awful,” he said. "Our turnovers were abnormally high and I think being on the road for so long finally started to wear on our guys a little bit. I give all the credit to Chapman though, we made too many mental mistakes and they took advantage, that’s what good teams do.”
Now with two losses on the season, BYU bused south to San Diego to cap off their travels against San Diego State. The Aztecs proved to be just as much for the Cougars to handle as the reigning champs and BYU needed everything it had left to hang on for a 9-7 win.
What started off as an even match broke open for BYU as Bernal, Farley, Henry Waddoups and Michael Perry put four straight past the Aztec goaltender, putting the Cougars up 8-3 with a period and a half to play. Despite the five goal difference, San Diego State was unfazed and came charging back in the fourth quarter.
Transition goals and sloppy defensive play helped the Aztecs put together a run of their own that brought the game to within one at 8-7. SDSU had possession coming out of a timeout, but a key caused turnover and ground ball by Jake Howard led to the final goal that took the wind out of the Aztec sails.
Montana State Takes on The Best of the UMLC
The DI RMLC schools aren’t the only ones taking tough road trips in the early season.
The Bobcats of Montana State scheduled the kings of the north in North Dakota State and St. Thomas this past week, riding high on a four-game win streak and a No. 12 national ranking to start the season. Their first test pinned them against the Bison in Fargo in a game that Montana State thoroughly controlled in the first half.
MSU came out with a calculated game plan to attack the Bison defense and made the most of their open looks on cage to take a commanding 6-2 lead after two quarters. Despite the poor lighting in the indoor facility, goalie Ryan Colesworthy made some tremendous saves to keep North Dakota State at bay. The visitors had the No. 5 team on the ropes, but couldn’t sustain the intensity as the Bison came back with a nine-goal rally in the second half and held the Bobcats scoreless.
NDSU controlled possession in the second half and had much more success forcing bad decisions on offense and the clearing game to come back against the visitors in a hurry. Combined with a deep bench and the loss of top-scoring MSU attackman Alex Brown, the Bison showed a hungry Bobcat team what it takes to compete with the best in the league.
“We were patient with the ball on offense in the first half and looked for the open man instead of the shot,” Montana State coach Chris Kelley said. “We were executing extremely well in the first half, we just lost that patience in the second half and North Dakota State came out very aggressive.”
The road would not do them any favors on Monday as reigning champion St. Thomas hosted the Bobcats in Minnesota.
The Tommies overwhelmed the pride of the Big Sky early and often, netting eight goals before Montana State would tally a point in the third quarter en route to a 15-4 setback in their second consecutive Top 5 matchup. Without Brown, the Bobcat offense looked to Mitch Page, who netted a hat trick in the loss.
MSU will have one last shot at picking up a victory against St. John's on Wednesday.
(Photo by Ben Haslam)