Ridgefield boys lax rallies for 6-5 win to reach state finals

A lesser team would’ve given up.

Down 5-0 with under 15 minutes left in Wednesday night's Class L state semifinal against Glastonbury at Fairfield Prep, it looked as though the season might be over for the Ridgefield High boys lacrosse team. It looked as if Glastonbury would knock the Tigers out of the state tournament for a second straight year. It looked as though Ridgefield might not even score a goal.

Looked can be deceiving.

In a rally for the ages, Ridgefield scored the last six goals to stun Glastonbury, 6-5, and advance to Saturday's Class L state championship game (3 p.m.) against unbeaten top-seed Darien at Brien McMahon in Norwalk. The Blue Wave, who edged fourth-seed New Canaan, 8-7, in the other semifinal Wednesday night, are the three-time reigning Class L champs and have won their last 76 games.

Greg Gatto, the Tigers' senior All-American midfielder, got the biggest goal of Ridgefield's comeback against Glastonbury. Held scoreless for the first 46-plus minutes, Gatto took a pass from John Mathes and shoveled the ball into the Tomahawks' net while diving forward for a 6-5 Ridgefield lead with 1:50 to play.

“I had been working mostly off ball and trying to do what I could to get other guys open,” said Gatto “I just tried to keep my feet moving inside and wait for my opportunity to make a play. Mathes did a great job of finding me, and once I saw the ball coming my way I knew I was gonna finish it."

The Tigers attempted to run out the clock but lost possession with a minute left. Glastonbury turned the ball over near the Ridgefield goal, regained possession, and then committed another turnover on a wayward pass that went out of bounds. Mathes then dodged defenders for the final 15 seconds until the final buzzer sounded.

For the first 34 minutes, Glastonbury's tactics worked wonderfully. The Tomahawks played at a snail's pace in an attempt to minimize Ridgefield’s possessions and take time off the clock. For three-to-four minutes stretches, Glastonbury would pass the ball around the Ridgefield defense without taking a shot.

But when the deliberate Tomahawks did decide to attack they were deadly. Glastonbury picked its shot attempts wisely and opened a 2-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and a 3-0 advantage at halftime. When the Tomahawks added the first two goals of the third quarter, their 5-0 lead seemed insurmountable.

“I watched film and they don’t always play like that, but it's the right strategy against a team like us,” said Ridgefield head coach Roy Colsey “We like to play fast and get lots of chances, so that’s why the offense was a little stagnant. And we had so few possessions. Once we started to settle down that made the difference.”

One turning point came right after Glastonbury went up 5-0. On the ensuing draw, Ridgefield inserted senior captain Luke Gaydos, a long-stick midfielder, into the face-off circle. Gaydos proceeded to win every face-off in the final 15 minutes and give Ridgefield the spark it needed to ignite a comeback.

“The key to that whole thing was Gaydos coming in, and I don’t think he lost a single face-off,” said Colsey. “He came to me after the New Canaan game and said, 'coach I want to face-off' and I said, 'I know, but I need you in so many other places and unless we’re in a difficult situation I don’t want you burning yourself out.' ”

“But give him credit for wanting that job and then stepping up and doing it. It was absolutely 100% the key to us making the comeback ... his faceoffs and getting possession. He was the guy. I don’t do game MVPs but if I did it would be him. He literally changed the game himself.”

“I knew I had to make a difference and that something had to change for us to get back in the game,” said Gaydos. “I just tried to make it a 50/50 ball [off the draw] and my wings and I played amazing and were able to scoop up each one.”

Supporting Gaydos on the late-game draws were James Isaacson and Brady McSpedon on the wings. The trio fought tooth and nail for every loose ball on the face-offs and flipped the momentum.

Still, all of the face-off wins would’ve gone to waste if not for the massive turnaround by the Ridgefield offense. Senior attackman Dawson Muller was the catalyst, setting up the first Ridgefield first goal. Muller came around behind the net and passed to an open Weston Carpenter at the top of the box. Carpenter fired a scorching shot that went past the Glastonbury goalie to make the score 5-1 with 2:37 left in the third quarter.

Forty-six seconds later, Muller scored Ridgefield’s next goal off of a spin move, cutting Glastonbury's lead to 5-2.

The end of the third quarter was frantic. Ridgefield quickly called a time out after winning the ensuing face-off. Gatto’s shot was saved but Ridgefield regained possession after Glastonbury couldn’t get the ball to Ridgefield’s side of the field within 10 seconds. Muller then missed a shot with 35 seconds left to keep the score at 5-2 heading into the fourth quarter.

Ridgefield wasted no time getting back on the board in the fourth quarter. Just 47 seconds in, Ray Dearth scored off an assist from Muller to cut the deficit to two. Dearth wasn’t done: Just 35 seconds later, he scored again on a hard shot off a run towards the net to make the score 5-4.

Muller then tied the game with 9:53 remaining on a running shot from the outside. In the span of one minute and 11 seconds, Ridgefield had wiped away a three-goal deficit.

Ridgefield had most of the possession for the rest of the game, culminating in Gatto’s game-winning goal.

While the offensive turnaround was remarkable, Ridgefield's defensive play throughout the game kept the deficit manageable. Led by goalie Dan Parson and defenders Noah Isaacson, Michael Dobson, Jack Dowd, and Gaydos, the Tigers didn't give up a goal in the final 15-plus minutes of play.

“We were able to make some solid adjustments, but it really came as a result of us having consistent possessions,” said Isaacson. “Once our offense started balling, we were playing less defense and were able to make plays when we had to to get the W.”