Eastern captures MAC Championship
Eagles erase four-goal deficit, down Widener in overtime
ST. DAVIDS, Pa. -- The final MAC Championship turned out to be one for the ages as Eastern erased a four-goal deficit to earn a 12-11 overtime win against Widener. Aaron Benz made 20 stops to earn Championship MVP honors.
Junior attack Chris Farrar scored with 2:08 remaining in the first overtime period to send the Eastern faithful on the hill overlooking Olson Field into a next-level frenzy. Farrar's game-ending heroics would not have been possible without several efforts in the come-from behind win.
The two sides traded goals through a closely contested first period of play. Will Johnson scored the game-opening goal on a tight crease feed from Chris Farrar only two minutes into the game. One minute later, Widener's Robert Clemons then fed Kyle Blakemore for the Pride's first of the day. Had Widener held on, Clemons would have been a top-candidate for Most Outstanding Player honors, the sophomore attack finished with a game-best five assists.
Matt Soldano gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead on a left-handed bounce shot from 10 yards out, but Widener answered with goals from Michael Bassani and Johnny Casey to grab a 3-2 edge with slightly more than a minute to play in the opening quarter. Soldano then tied the match at 3-3 with 39 seconds left on a skip pass from Will Johnson.
The first nine Eastern goals of the match came from midfielders.
"Their close defenders were really tough, and we knew that going in," Eastern Head Coach Kevin Wallace said. "Our attack men just had to keep moving and running hard, but we knew we needed to get goals from themidfield. Matt [Soldano] got us off to a good start dodging hard."
Widener had a 12-8 edge in shots through the opening 15 minutes of action.
Midfielder Eric Waibel stung the upper corner with a 20-yard missile to put the Eagles up 4-3 early in the second, but Widener's Josh Fox answered with a pair of goals 90 seconds apart to put the Pride up 5-4.
With time running down in the first half, Wallace called a timeout with Waibel apparently in trouble behind the Widener goal. By the time the official had granted the time out, Waibel had extricated himself from the situation and put in what the crowd believed to be a game-tying goal. The score, however, did not stand, and out of the time-out, the Pride forced a turnover and scored the final goal of the half on a pretty transition pass from Clemons to Blakemore for a 6-4 halftime edge.
The Pride lead grew to 7-4 on a Brian Rogers goal from behind the cage. The Widener senior rolled around the crease and threw a fake to the alley that forced the second defender to step back slightly. He took full advantage of the tight opening to stuff a left handed shot past Benz from close range.
AJ Ryan, who was dominant at the face-off X all day, then brought the crowd back into the game with an unassisted goal six seconds later. Ryan won 20-of-26 draws to give the home-side a decided advantage in possession off face-offs.
Widener grabbed possession and put the Eastern defense under pressure for the middle portion of the third period. Benz made seven of his 20 saves in the third, but the Pride managed a man-up goal with eight-and-a-half to play and an even-strength tally with 4:02 on the clock to build a 9-5 lead with time slipping away for the Freedom Champion Eagles.
Andy Jameson started the Eastern rally with a solo effort with 2:36 left in the period and Zac Ivy fed Will Johnson with a perfect skip pass to cut the deficit to 9-7 with :43 seconds left in the third. Ryan won yet another draw, but the the ball squirted away from the center toward the Widener bench. Ron Johnson out-raced his opposing wing and tip-toed on the sideline while corralling the ground ball. The junior defensive midfielder saw a transition chance and capitalized with a hesitation move at the edge of the crease and a shot just under the bar with 28 ticks on the clock.
Johnson then tied the game near the end of extra-man opportunity. After a shot went awry and Widener secured possession, he intercepted a wayward outlet pass and sprinted right to goal for his 11th tally of the year.
"Ron can make plays," Wallace said of the junior from California. "We feel that any time he is out there, we have the best athlete on the field, and while he is invaluable on defense, his ability to turn unsettled stuff into goals sets him apart."
Farrar then became the first Eastern attackman of the day to score a goal as Ryan won yet another face-off and fed his fellow junior in transition for a 10-9 lead with nearly a full 14 minutes to play. The five Eastern goals all happened within four minutes of clock time.
The 13-time MAC Champion Pride were not about to let the game slip away so easily, and Bassani leveled the score on a tip-in from the edge of the crease from Mark Kane. The officials conferred briefly after the goal, but ruled correctly that the senior had stayed out of the crease until well after the goal was scored and then had been nudged in by an Eastern defender.
Widener grabbed the lead on a Casey goal from Clemons with 7:41 on the clock. The Pride had three chances to push its edge to 12-10 in the next four minutes, but Benz came up with three huge stops to keep the deficit at one.
After the third clear, the Eagles were able to clear and get a timeout with two minutes to play. The Eagles looked to free their three attackmen, but theWidener defense held and a Farrar pass sailed high out toward midfield. Freshman defender Jordan Norris won the battle for the loose ball and pushed it back into the attacking half for Will Johnson with just over a minute to play.
The junior from New York had to stay in the box once he earned it, and he drove downhill with great pace. He was able to clear his hands just before the crease and tucked a shot into the top near corner to tie the contest with one minute remaining. Will Johnson's 3rd of the day and 21st of the year set up a thrilling final minute of play.
Ryan won control of the draw, but a well-timed check popped the ball free and Widener earned the final possession of overtime. After a late timeout, the Pride got a shot on the doorstep from Blakemore, but Benz again was there to turn away the effort and ultimately send the game to overtime.
Ryan won his final face-off of the day going backwards and the Eagles executed a deliberate clear to earn the box and set up a play with a time-out. Will Johnson narrowly missed the game-winner with a short-sided shot that grazed the outside of the pipe on its way out-of-bounds. Farrar, who had backed up the shot, brought the ball into play and after a quick move behind the cage dove to the front of the crease and bounced a shot just inside the far post for his 29th goal of the year.
Farrar's two goals and an assist move him into a tie for second on Eastern's single-season point list with, as all the Eastern players would want everyone to know, more lacrosse to play.
"This was a great win for our program," Wallace, who was hired on an interim status in September said, "These guys have worked very hard to get here, and they stayed together throughout. I told them at halftime if we stayed together that we would win, and they did that. We are looking forward to what is to come."