COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Third-seeded Air Force held on for a 9-8 victory against top-seed Fairfield on Saturday at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium to claim the 2014 Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament championship.
With the win, the Falcons earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA championship, making their first appearance in the national tournament since 1988.
Junior Keith Dreyer, named the tournament's most outstanding player, led the Falcons with three goals and an assist, while sophomore Christopher Allen pitched in two scores.
The Falcons got on the board first, as Dreyer found the back of the net with an assist from senior Tommy McKee just a minute into the contest, but the Stags scored off the ensuing face-off to tie the game at 1. After nearly seven minutes without a goal on either side, Mike Crampton ended the drought at the 6:42 mark with his lone goal of the game.
Air Force added two more goals in the next two minutes, including a man-up score from local product Kyle Cassady, to take a 4-1 advantage. However, Fairfield ended the Falcons' run with another goal off a face-off win, as Air Force took a 4-2 lead into the second period.
Fairfield registered the first goal of the second quarter to cut the margin to one, but an unassisted goal from Erik Smith with 8:29 on the clock pushed the Falcons' lead to 5-3. However, the Stags registered the last two scores of the half, including one with less than a minute remaining in the period, to tie the game at 5 heading into the intermission.
After the break, Allen broke the stalemate with an unassisted score a minute and a half into the third period. Rookie Austin Smith added to the Falcons' lead with a goal during a timer-on situation, while Allen again found the back of the net with just under seven minutes left in the quarter. Meanwhile, Air Force was able to shut out Fairfield in the third period, taking an 8-5 lead into the final stanza.
The Stags tallied the first goal of the fourth quarter, getting a man-up score with 10:23 on the clock, but Dreyer buried his third goal of the day to push Air Force's lead back to three goals. However, Fairfield registered the next two goals to cut the margin to 9-8 with 5:25 remaining in regulation. Both defenses battled down the stretch, but neither team was able to score again, as the Falcons held off the Stags to earn their first ECAC tournament title.
Dreyer, who registered his first hat trick of the season, was joined on the all-tournament team by Crampton, Erik Smith and goalkeeper Doug Gouchoe, who recorded eight second-half saves, including a crucial stop in the waning seconds of the contest.
"I'm very proud of these guys," Air Force head coach Eric Seremet said. "I think we've taken a solid step forward for this program, but we're not done. Our goals are to continue on with this season."
Air Force reached 10 victories for the first time since 1989.
Fairfield's Toby Armour, Colin McLinden, Michael Roe and Tristan Sperry made the all-tournament team, as did Jesse King of Ohio State.
Eastern College Athletic Conference Athletics contributed to this report.