(from a Great Falls release)
SPOKANE, Wash. – Great Falls came one final-second shot away from forcing overtime against Gonzaga, but the potential game-tying goal sailed wide, sending UGF to a 12-11 loss to the Zags in the team's second PNCLL contest.
The UGF attack started the game in a strong rhythm, getting off 12 shots and converting on four. Senior Al Williams followed up a season high of three goals in the team's previous game by scoring the first goal of the game on an unassisted effort two minutes into the first quarter.
"Al has just started to realize that he is more of a force than he thinks he is," said Great Falls coach Fred Boekel. "He's creating with his own feet and we're also doing a good job of finding him in an open spot so that he can get his shot off."
Junior Josh Smith scored twice and sophomore Chase Clark scored another, while sophomore goalkeeper Jeremy Smith made five saves in the first quarter to give the Argos a 4-2 lead after 15 minutes of play.
While UGF got off 11 more shots and won 4-of-5 faceoffs in the second quarter, missed shots and two penalties on two of the team's top defenders meant an even period at 2-2. Smith score both of UGF's goals, but the period marked unwanted shift in offensive execution.
"We just didn't run our offense today," Boekel said. "It became last year's offense where we just give it to Josh and watch him do it on his own."
After going to the penalty box three separate times in the first half, Clark was moved from his usual spot on the UGF defense to attack where he would be less likely to pick up more fouls and eventually foul out.
The move did lead to two more goals from Clark in the third quarter, but it also dramatically weakened UGF's ability to protect its own net. Gonzaga scored five times in the third quarter -- the most either team scored in a 15-minute stretch to take a 9-8 lead.
The Zags also did a much better job holding on to the ball that the Argos did in the third stanza, only turning the ball over once, as opposed to the three instances of UGF coughing up the ball. In comparison to the team's turnover total of 29 against Central Washington, the Argo's 11 turnovers in the game were a big improvement, but several of those came in critical moments, including a few right on GU's crease.
"I think those penalties blew it for us. On top of that, these turnovers just kill us," Boekel said. "The game yesterday we should've won by four or five goals, but we kept turning it over and this game was the same thing. We keep turning the ball over when we should be cashing in goal. It's a killer."
Smith tied the game up with his fifth goal of the game to start the fourth quarter, but Gonzaga then rattled off three of its own to take a daunting 12-9 lead with 2:30 left in the game. To make matters worse, a one minute penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct with 4:43 left took Clark out of the game for good based on his total number of fouls.
Williams, Smith and freshman faceoff man Dante Duran stepped up in the final two and half minutes. Duran won 4-of-5 faceoffs in the period and gave UGF a chance at the end thanks to the extra possessions.
UGF's furious rally started with a goal from Williams with just over a minute left. Duran won the ensuing faceoff and Smith scored 50 seconds later to pull within one. Duran again got the ball for UGF and the Argos got of a final shot before the final buzzer sounded, but it went wide and the Argos lost.
Despite the disappointing result, the Argos showed improvements in a number of statistical areas. The team was a perfect 8-8 on clear attempts, won the ground ball battle 32-25, won 17 of 24 faceoffs and committed 18 less turnovers than in its previous game.
Smith scored 6 goals for the second consecutive game, bringing his season total to 18.
UGF's record goes to 2-3 (1-1) on the year after five straight road games. The Argos will finally get a chance to play on the new Argo field for the first time ever with the team's home opener on Friday, March 24 at 4 p.m. MDT.