Ridgefield’s lax win over Darien is state moment of year

The Ridgefield boys lacrosse team celebrates after its 9-8 win over Darien in the Class L state finals. — JB Blood photo
The Ridgefield boys lacrosse team celebrates after its 9-8 win over Darien in the Class L state finals. — JB Blood photo

The top high school sports moment of the 2017-18 school year came on the last day of competition in Connecticut.

And it came courtesy of the Ridgefield High boys lacrosse team.

The final seconds of the Tigers’ 9-8 upset win over previously unbeaten Darien in the Class L state title game has been voted as the best CIAC (Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference) championship moment from 2017-18.

It was one of 20 moments that the CIAC chose as finalists for online fan voting. The top-five moments were revealed in a daily countdown on the CIAC website last week.

Here’s what the CIAC said about the fan’s top choice:

The Class L boys lacrosse final between Ridgefield and Darien was one of the last championship games to finish the 2017-18 high school sports season. And it provided a remarkable bookend to the year. Although a game with this much drama and this many storylines could have taken place at anytime and it still would have captivated the public enough to earn the number-one spot in the CIAC Championship Moments Vote.

“It really was that kind of a moment, for a small point in time the ending of that game really captivated the entire lacrosse world,” Ridgefield coach Roy Colsey stated. “The response that we got, the players, the coaches, from lacrosse fans worldwide was incredible.”

The game itself and the way it played out created plenty of drama as it is, but that is before you get to the big storylines. Darien came into the final riding a 76-match winning streak and had won four-consecutive state titles, and 13 state titles overall. In addition the Blue Wave had won the last 11 times it had reached a CIAC championship match (including a win over Ridgefield in 2015).

Ridgefield was no stranger to CIAC titles, having a pair of victories on its resume, but like the rest of the Connecticut lacrosse world its goals had often been thwarted by the dominance of Darien. In the face of that success, as much as any tactical approach the Tigers would take, getting the team to truly believe it could win was just as big a hurdle.

“You get to a point where you are talking a good game with your players, but getting them to believe defeat after defeat after defeat is a real challenge,” Colsey explained. “Frankly as a coach it’s something that became almost an obsession for me trying to find the right language to go along with the game plan to just believe in themselves.

“I was really honest with my team this year and spoke to them directly about the opportunity, number one, and also about the fact that it was going to be a real challenge. I had to put a lot of trust in my players and on the flip side they had to put a lot of trust in me as far as this is their one shot and for the seniors their last shot.”

That belief was quickly tested as Darien held a slim lead after the first period and Ridgefield and its coaches had to reinforce to stick with the game plan. From there things began to swing Ridgefield’s way with the Tigers outscoring Darien, 5-0, in the second period, and ultimately building a 9-3 lead into the fourth. And then it got interesting. Very interesting.

Darien’s explosive offense began finding cracks in the Ridgefield defense, and playing with a desperation befitting a state title game the Blue Wave started to crash down with a string of goals, ultimately pulling to within one goal at 9-8 with 1:55 left in the game.

“I just knew we needed to make one stop,” Colsey said. “The rest of the game was a lot easier to coach than the last few minutes.

“The whole game was a lot of fun to watch if you were a Ridgefield fan but the last five minutes would be exciting to watch for anybody. There were parts of the game when I allowed myself to say ‘holy cow, this is incredible, this is working’ but the last six minutes there were no thoughts of that.”

As the moment below indicates, Ridgefield’s defense, which had been stout throughout the game and the postseason, made one final stand and created a moment that drew the attention of fans of lacrosse and high school sports around Connecticut and the country. It was a fittingly taught finish to a highly intense and competitive game, worthy of a state championship contest.

“It was a tremendous amount of relief when they checked that ball out and it hits the ground and I realize we’ve won the game, just an incredible, still right this second thinking about it gives me goosebumps,” Colsey said. “The fact of the matter is Darien’s success is what made this such a tremendous moment and turned this into much more than just winning a state championship game.

“I think that is really what captivated people. It’s amazing to think about as a coach, over 200 games coached in the FCIAC and all these games against Darien and other great opponents, for me that was my single biggest thrill as a high school coach for sure.”

A thrill for the coach, a thrill for the players, a thrill for the fans and a thrill for those who love the passions and emotions of high school sports. A game that had everything you could want in a state championship, and it’s a deserving choice as the top CIAC Championship moment for the 2017-18 high school sports season.

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