Ashburn, Va. (June 9, 2015) – Something happened in that third quarter, something incredible and marvelous and wonderful for the Stone Bridge Bulldogs, something that would be in huge demand if it could only be bottled and sold.
As the third frame of the Group 5A state semifinal boys’ lacrosse showdown trickled into its final minutes on Tuesday evening, something magical was about to take place on the Rock Ridge High School football field.
It didn’t feel like it at first. Important moments are sometimes recognized as important only after the passage of time permits us to look back and see just how big. But with 133 seconds left in the third quarter of a till-then very underwhelming contest, it suddenly became a great time to be a Bulldog fan.
Down 9-5 to 5A South runner-up Douglas Freeman, Stone Bridge (18-1) got down to work. They completely turned the tables on their guests, becoming the aggressors and dictating pace – and, eventually, outcome. With a burst of energy their opponents could not match, the Bulldogs scored once at the 2:13 mark, then again at 1:27, then again eight seconds into the fourth…
…then again with 6:51 left, tying things at 9-9…then again at 5:32, taking the lead for the first time…then again, and again….seven consecutive goals for the Bulldogs without a single answer by the Rebels (15-4).
The glorious, ongoing miracle did not cease until the final buzzer sounded, a second before which the Bulldogs – you guessed it – scored again.
Whatever that something was, the Freeman players never knew what hit them. When it was over, the Bulldogs celebrated like they’d won the whole thing.
“We all realized this could be our last game unless we picked up our energy,” said senior midfielder Gus Capace, one of the chief miracle-workers with three goals, all in the final 15 minutes. “Seniors all got together and decided we were going to take the game over.”
Stone Bridge head coach Scott Mitchell wasn’t fully dry from the gallons of dousings he took from some jubilant Bulldog players when he stopped for a postgame interview.
“We weren’t apprehensive, but I think there was a little bit of nerves going in,” said Mitchell, who is taking his team to the state championship game for the first time in his eight seasons. “At halftime, we reminded them, we just got to play fast and physical, fast and physical. Once they got settled, I think they understood that we could run with these guys even if they were an excellent team.”
The first 33 minutes of game-play in the state semifinal were, for the Bulldogs, as forgettable as the final 15 were memorable.
Freeman tallied four of the first five goals, though Stone Bridge junior attacker Cade Groton got things started with an overhand shot in close. But the Rebels’ 50-yard hail-mary shot which somehow made it into the back of the net in the first quarter’s last second was a psychological blow for the Bulldogs to take.
Junior attacker Colin Jachimowski notched one early in the second, taking the assist from senior defender Matt Nabors. That goal set in motion a seesaw which kept Freeman on top 7-4, as the Rebels went to halftime with another final-seconds marker.
“We did a lot of isolation dodges early, where we were in one area and didn’t really share the wealth,” Mitchell asssessed. “That’s the adjustment we made at half, forcing the ball to rotate and then get a dodge. We did a much better job on that… We didn’t need a great play, just a whole bunch of good plays.”
Freeman’s defense continued its stifling nature, getting up close and personal with the Stone Bridge offense, at times seeming to share their shirts. The Rebels scored two of the first three goals in the third stanza…and then, just like that, were heard from no more.
Capace scored, assisted by Groton, for a 9-6 count. Then Freeman took an ill-advised penalty, putting them a man down for two solid minutes. The Bulldogs took advantage with two goals in that span, as Capace and junior midfielder Thomas Radford tossed it in.
The deficit was then merely one, and remained tantalizingly close for five long minutes.
With seven minutes on the clock, Capace waltzed down the field in tandem with Nabors, playing catch as they went until Nabors flung it in with his long stick, forcing the first tie since it was 1-1.
Seventy-nine seconds later, the Bulldogs had their first lead when freshman attacker Nickolas Cole drove against his defender like a basketball player penetrating the post, faked left, shot right and zinged it in.
The Stone Bridge fans went into hysterics, stomping and clapping and whooping and hollering.
The score went unchanged through another lengthy five-minute stretch, into the final 60 seconds. With 50 seconds, Stone Bridge senior goalie Logan Broadbent rose to the fore, smartly stopping a head-high shot as the Rebels sought to answer, drawing more hearty cheers.
With 26.6 seconds showing, Capace wound up and fired a fastball that gave the Bulldogs a huge two-goal advantage with their sixth straight tally.
As a finishing touch, playing till the buzzer even with victory assured, Nabors tossed one in with two seconds left for good measure.
Broadbent – a mobile goalie unafraid of venturing far from his net, especially with the ball in his cradle – hauled in 11 saves. Capace contributed those three late goals, while Nabors, Jachimowski, Cole and Groton notched two apiece. Groton dished three assists.
Midfielder Anthony York and defenders Aidan FitzGerald and Adam Bryant were cogs in the Bulldogs’ defensive machine, which was running at full efficiency in the contest’s latter stages.
“The past three years we’ve been losing by one goal. Oh, man. To finally get here and make it to the state finals, I can’t even describe it, it’s just…” Capace had too many excited thoughts to get out in words, teammates and fans milling happily around him.
Now that was something.
Next for Stone Bridge is a date with 5A South champion Atlee in the 5A state title game, set for June 13 at 2:30 p.m. on the campus of Lake Braddock Secondary School.
“I feel bad for the team that has to play us now,” Capace declared.
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Written by Jason S Rufner
Special to VivaLoudoun