It has been three years since the Fort Lewis Skyhawks last played a game in Flagstaff against former RMLC rival Northern Arizona University. While only two current Skyhawks were present in that last match, this game proved every bit the equal of the historical showdowns that used to determine RMLC West playoff seedings. Unfortunately for the Fort, the Lumberjacks defended their home turf well, limiting the potent Skyhawk attack to just 8 goals on the day. NAU could not have thwarted the Fort without the outstanding play of their goalie, Charles Herald, who made 26 saves on the day, including 3 in overtime.
Fort Lewis controlled the 1st quarter with a dominating defensive effort, forcing multiple turnovers, clearing with authority, and winning the groundball war. The offense came out firing with 3 goals in a 2 minute stretch, as Grant Arthurs and Max Segal worked a two-man game to perfection. The second quarter saw a swing in momentum, as NAU pushed back, scoring four goals and forcing multiple turnovers by the Skyhawks. The Fort did manage to dominate faceoffs and get off 11 shots to end the half, but were continually denied by a hot goaltender. At the half, the Fort found themselves down only 4-3 despite a bunch of difficult penalty situations.
The second half mirrored the first two periods, as both teams had both long and short possessions, fast break chances, and great saves by their goalies. Max Segal scored 2 goals on blazing shots to keep the Skyhawks poised for the comeback. Down by one going into the final quarter, offensive frustrations mounted for the young Fort Lax team as multiple possessions ended with dropped passes, poor angle shots, and missed opportunities. NAU capitalized early, taking an 8-5 lead with 10 minutes left in the contest. Crunch time is Skyhawk time, as this team proved yet again with a furious three goal rally, punctuated by a goal by Grant Arthurs and another 2 by Max Segal. The Skyhawk defense held a quick NAU transition game in check with furious rides and dominant groundball work, allowing the Fort to have possession for a dramatic finish with 37 seconds left. Despite getting off 2 shots, the game headed into overtime, no surprise for this traditionally tight series.
The opening faceoff went to Fort Lewis who appeared to have a fast break chance, but couldn’t hold on to the ball. Fort Lewis goalie Chris Sowder made the best save of his young career as NAU drove down and placed a low shot that Sowder dove to kick away. The Skyhawks appeared to have the answer as their own furious transition found a series of passes completed and Tom Rosenbaugh open on the doorstep of the NAU goal. It took a diving, cross-crease save by NAU’s goalie to turn the final tide, as he stole the victory from the Fort. The drama finished on the other end with a high bounce shot as the defense collapsed on the shooter, and Skyhawk heads fell as the Lumberjacks rushed the field.
A 9-8 loss in overtime is a tough learning experience for a young team hungry for a victory. Learning how to get a lead and keep it, learning how to rally defensively, learning to take advantage of “easy” opportunities, and learning how to score on a hot goalie are just a few of the key things to take away from this game. Watching a team come together and evolve inside of a game is one of the joys of sports, watching a team grow together on a road trip is one of the joys of coaching, and watching a rivalry renewed is a joy for any fan of lacrosse. Thanks to NAU for hosting us, it is good to have you back in the MCLA, and thanks to our friends and family who made the trip to Flagstaff to see us play.