It took a comeback for the ages, but the Trent Excalibur pulled out a thrilling 7-6 win over the Brock Badgers to reach the Baggataway Cup championship game for the first time Saturday.
With both defences and goalies playing exceptionally well, goals were at a premium throughout the game. Brock found some holes to go on a run with three goals in 2:34 of the first quarter and finished 20 minutes of play with a 4-0 lead. The lead could have been even more but Trent goalie Kyle Holton made back to back saves on shots from right on top of the crease just before the quarter expired.
The Excalibur began to gain more of the territorial edge in the second quarter and outshot the Badgers, but Alex Guiney was sharp in net for Brock and Trent was held off the score sheet for another 12:25. Finally, midfielder Dan Michel fired a bouncer from outside that snuck through to get Trent on the board.
That turned out to be the only goal of the quarter. Perhaps the best chance for another marker in the frame came in the final seconds, when Brock had another wide open look on top of the crease but Holton—who would be named the player of the game for Trent—made another sensational save.
Two and a half minutes into the second half, Brandon Staal was coming out from behind the net and executed a creative shovel pass to Nick Rybka, who tucked it home to extend Brock's lead to 5-1. Jeff Fernandes replied for Trent but Staal set up Connor Ham for another goal to restore the Badger's four-goal advantage.
With five and a half minutes to play, Trent got one back. Nick Karam was circling from low up towards the slot when he saw an opening. Using a jab step to quickly reverse course, he made a shovel pass very similar to Staal's earlier play. Cole McWilliams received the pass just above the goal line and flicked a shot in to make it 6-3 after three quarters of play.
It's difficult to say how much effect having to play a quarterfinal Friday night has on a team playing the semifinals on Saturday, but Brock—who beat Ottawa in the quarters—didn't appear to have as much energy in the fourth quarter as did Trent, who were CUFLA East's top seed entering the weekend and had Friday off.
Michel got the Trent comeback underway with a similar shot from a similar spot to his first goal, bouncing one home 1:07 into the quarter.
Garrett Eddy has been Trent's most dangerous creator of scoring chances for a couple of years now, but he had been held in check by the Badgers' tenacious defence, earning just one assist. Just under five minutes into the fourth, though, he used his quick feet dodging in from the wing to create an opening and ripped home a high shot. Brock still led 6-5, but body language on the Trent bench was entirely positive while Badgers' players looked shocked and tired.
Brock kept battling on defence, though, and held Trent off the scoreboard for almost 10 minutes. The Badgers offence wasn't faring so well. The Excalibur, led by a standout performance from Ethan Schott, held Brock scoreless through the final 29:27 and allowed only two goals in the final 68:13 of the game.
Travis Szabolcs got a step on his defender and muscled his way towards the net then bounced a shot through the legs of Guiney to tie the game with 5:38 left.
Freshman Cam Garlin led Trent with 28 goals this season but had been frustrated by the Badgers' defence Saturday. He and the rest of the Excalibur won't remember much about the first 58 minutes of his game, though. What they'll remember is that he slipped into a sliver of open space in the slot and got off a quick release to put home the winning goal with 1:59 to play, eventually securing Trent's first appearance in the CUFLA finals.
The game was far from over at that point, though. Brock pushed for an equalizer. Trent was effective in holding them off and looked to be in a great situation when Holton made a save and controlled the ball with less than a minute to play. But Holton made perhaps his only mistake of the day when he tried to force a pass to the far sideline near centre field. It sailed over the head of a long pole reaching up for it and out of bounds, giving possession back to Brock.
Things again looked good for Trent when Schott stripped the ball from a Brock attack behind the net and was poised to scoop it up. Stunningly, Schott was called for interference on the play. Even worse from the Excalibur's perspective was that, despite the ball still being in play and no Trent player having touched it, play was blown dead. So instead of having their full defensive complement on the field to defend, Trent was down one player and Brock had time to set up their power play.
Trent may have gotten a break when Brock missed a shot a few seconds later. Badger Connor Ham appeared to have the edge in the race to the goal line to earn possession. He stopped running before Holton did, clearly thinking the play was over. Trent was awarded the ball, though.
Brock put plenty of pressure on, but?eventually defender Cole Murduff picked the ball off the ground with five seconds remaining and flung it high in the air and far down the field. It bounced with about one second to play and by the time it returned to Earth again Excalibur reserves were streaming onto the field to celebrate the win.
It was a tremendous game: exciting, hard-fought and intense. Both teams are brash and loud, and the tone for the semifinal was established by a pregame incident that saw some pushing and shoving and a hard slash delivered by a Brock long pole to a Trent player's leg after a disagreement about a ball that went over the centre line and wasn't returned.
In the game itself, though, both teams for the most part showed impressive discipline and composure. Both made mistakes, but both put on an excellent display to produce one of the best field lacrosse games you'll see. ?