Skyhawks Split in Conference Clash

Fort Lax traveled to Logan, Utah this past weekend for a pair of games against Rocky Mountain Lacrosse Conference powers the Utah State Aggies and Montana State Bobcats. Fans of lacrosse were treated to two nail-biting intense games that served to sort out the early season pecking order in the RMLC. On Friday night the defending RMLC D2 champion MSU Bobcats lost to newcomer USU 11-6 while Fort Lewis made the long drive to Logan. The Aggies moved to D2 officially this season after decades of D1 competition (they compete in Division 1 in almost all other sports).  The Skyhawks knew that they were in for a battle on Saturday, and the game did not disappoint.

While snow began to fall around game time, FLC and USU were lucky to be playing indoors in the impressive Stan Laub indoor stadium.  The field has its own quirks though, being a few yards short, sporting cavernous walls and limited sideline space, and lacrosse field lines that had to be taped with duct tape. So it goes in the RMLC, part of the quirky charm that makes the conference both a geographic and competitive challenge.  Both teams came ready to play and the tone was set early that clean but physical play would be the norm.

The Skyhawks weathered an early assault, as So. goalie Hayden Pike made 6 saves in the first quarter and the Fort capitalized on its limited chances to finish the first quarter tied 2-2. Six more saves by Pike, lights out defense, and a beautifully executed rocket shot by Fr. mid Dakota Andre gave the Fort a 3-2 lead at halftime.  Both teams broke the seal in a big way in the 3rd quarter as the Skyhawks built a 2 goal lead to go up 8-6. Junior attackman Max Segal had 3 goals in the quarter, aided by the hot streak of faceoff man So. James Rott, who also added 2 assists to go with 5 faceoff wins in a row. The stage was set for a big road win by the Skyhawks, but Utah State made some big adjustments in the 4th quarter. USU midfielder Sam Taylor led all scorers in the game with 3 goals and 3 assists, with 2G, 2A coming in the final frame.  Taylor’s assist to Zac Payne with just over 4 minutes left on a hard cut inside proved to be the difference, as a furious Skyhawk rally and attempts to double team resulted in a final empty net goal with just 17 seconds left to make the final score 12-10 USU.

There was little time to mourn the loss for Fort Lax, as they had to take on a hungry MSU team at 10am Sunday morning.  Tired legs and van lag contributed to a sloppy game by the Skyhawks, who had 16 minutes in penalties to just 4 minutes by the Bobcats.  The previous night the Fort spent just 2 minutes in the penalty box, so the neutral field game had a very different feel.  Both teams traveled more than 7 hours to get to Utah, and neither wanted to leave without a victory.

The intensity was high, and FLC jumped out to a big lead early 4-1 at the end of the first and lead 7-3 at halftime. Many of the Fort goals were highlight style and the result of good ball movement and teamwork, So. attack Conor Henricks was on fire with 3G, 2A in the first half alone. The Bobcats proved their caliber in the second half as they switched to a zone defense. Seemingly endless penalties by the Fort kept the Skyhawks on their heels, but the defense limited to damage and held on to a 8-6 lead going into the 4th.  Hayden Pike played like a man possessed in the 4th quarter, making 10 big saves in back and forth action, but he couldn’t stop a well placed shot by MSU attackman Preston Knight with 46 seconds left that tied the score at 9. Overtime started with a faceoff loss by the Skyhawks, but a hard riding effort by Jr. midfielder and captain Brooks Wilcox got the ball back for Fort Lewis.  A patient and methodical possesion by the Fort held the ball for almost 2 minutes before Max Segal let it rip from almost 15 yards out and by the MSU goalie for the 10-9 win.

The ensuing celebration was as playoff worthy as the game was as players piled on Segal. Fort Lewis will likely have to go through both USU and MSU again in the RMLC playoffs in early May, as the 4 team format pairs up cross-division opponents.  Fort Lax moves to 4-1 on the season, and may get some national top 25 attention as a result. Regardless, their next game is against perennial MCLA top 20 team Cal State Fullerton on March 7th in Flagstaff, AZ.  That game should show where the RMLC stands compared to national competition. In the mean time, it is back to work in Durango, where the snowfall may keep the team indoors, but will not keep them down.

All game and player stats, as well as standings, can be found online at   http://mcla.us/team/ft_lewis/2015/schedule.html.

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