State shocker: Ridgefield beats Darien, 9-8, in Class L finals (updated)
76-1. And what a one.
After 76 straight victories, the Darien High boys lacrosse team saw Ridgefield end its winning streak on the biggest of stages: the state finals.
With a thrilling 9-8 victory in the Class L championship game Saturday, Ridgefield defeated the second-ranked team in the entire country, gave the Darien seniors their first loss, and brought home the third state title in program history.
A genius game plan helped the sixth-seeded Tigers jump out to a 6-2 lead at halftime. Ridgefield opted to slow the pace to nearly a grinding halt by using long possessions. Shots were taken sparingly but had a high success rate, giving a payoff to the ball control and frustrating Darien.
“We knew we probably weren’t going to win face-offs and we knew that we had to keep them to the right number of goals, which we thought was eight goals crazily enough,” said Ridgefield head coach Roy Colsey about his team's strategy. “We knew if we possessed the ball they wouldn’t score enough.”
Trailing 2-1 at the end of the opening quarter, Ridgefield scored five unanswered goals in the second period to take a 6-2 halftime lead.
The most clinical example of the Tigers' approach came during the third quarter, when Ridgefield's seven-plus minute possession culminated in a goal from John Mathes off an assist from Dawson Muller. That was the only goal of the third period, which ended with Darien bewildered and Ridgefield ahead 7-2.
After the teams traded goals to start the final quarter, Muller scored with 5:19 left to give the Tigers a seemingly insurmountable 9-3 lead.
Then came the Darien comeback. Brian Minicus scored with 3:39 left to make it 9-4. In the next 68 seconds, the Blue Wave scored three more goals to close within 9-7. When top-seed Darien scored again to make it a one-goal game with 1:55 left, Ridgefield looked as though it might be the victim of an epic rally.
But the Tigers stepped up when it mattered most. Although Darien won the ensuing faceoff, Ridgefield regained possession when the ball went out of bounds with 82 seconds left. Darien did get a final chance when it got the ball and following a 20-second scramble in the middle of the field and called time-out with 16.4 seconds remaining.
Off the restart, Minicus then took the ball down the field and sent a pass to Logan McGovern. But McGovern lost control while trying to get off a shot with two seconds left. Ridgefield goalie Dan Parson scooped up the loose ball and heaved it downfield as time expired, setting off a raucous celebration.
“This [championship] is right up there,” said Colsey, who won two national championships as a player at Syracuse and one as Ridgefield's coach in 2011. “As a player you feel like you have a little bit more control when you’re on the field. The hardest thing about being a coach is creating a game plan and allowing the kids to execute. But I’m so proud of this group of kids ... they were willing to execute a pretty boring game plan to win this game. Honestly, this is as good of a championship as I’ve had in my entire life.”
The start of the game suggested a rough day for Ridgefield. Darien’s Hudson Pokorny scored just 48 seconds into the game, and the Blue Wave won the ensuing face-off. But Ridgefield defender Noah Isaacson recovered a missed pass and the Tigers began to execute their game plan, passing the ball around the perimeter for over a minute before Weston Carpenter scored on a Muller assist with 8:41 left in the opening quarter.
Darien quickly responded, winning the ensuing face-off and getting a goal from McGovern just six seconds later to go ahead, 2-1. Ridgefield dominated possession for the rest of the quarter but was unable to convert on several shots.
The Tigers got the tying goal less than two minutes into the second quarter. Muller gained separation on the left side of the box and sent a pass to Carpenter, who scored on a hard, low shot.
Darien won the next faceoff but quickly squandered the opportunity with a shot that flew over the Ridgefield net, giving the ball back to the Tigers just 12 seconds later.
Ridgefield then went into its pass-heavy, slow-set offense for nearly two minutes until Ray Dearth scored to give Ridgefield a 3-2 lead.
The Tigers won the next face-off and passed the ball around for over three minutes before Muller dodged his defender and scored on a hard shot from the middle to make it 4-2.
Despite winning the face-off, Darien turned the ball over when Noah Isaacson intercepted a pass.
Ridgefield maintained possession for about two minutes before taking a time-out with 2:59 remaining in the half. The Tigers then spent another minute passing the ball before Muller scored his second goal of the game for a 5-2 lead.
After Luke Gaydos won the ensuing face-off for Ridgefield, Colsey called a time-out with 1:35 left in the half. Dearth cradled the ball behind the Darien net for nearly 80 seconds and then spotted Carpenter open on the top right side of the box. Carpenter fired a shot past Darien goalie Sean Collins with 2.9 seconds left, stretching the Tigers' halftime lead to 6-2.
Following two forced turnovers by its defense, Ridgefield got the ball with 8:35 left in the third quarter. The Tigers then kept control for more than seven minutes until Mathes scored with 1:05 remaining.
Down 7-2 with 7:28 left in the game, Darien pulled Collins for an extra field player. But Carpenter beat a double team to score into the empty net and push Ridgefield's lead to 8-2.
After the Blue Wave ended their scoring drought to make it 8-3, Parson stopped a Darien shot with 6:15 to play. Muller then took a pass from Dearth and deftly dodged his defender to score into the empty Darien net, stretching Ridgefield's lead to 9-3.
Darien then went on its five-goal run before the Tigers hung on to win the state title.
“My seniors are incredible,” said Colsey. “This is what we’ve worked for all of these years. We’ve been close a lot and been second a lot. We’ve been the second best team in the state for give or take 10 years.
“We’ve played Darien more than anybody else and we’ve lost to Darien more than anybody else,” added Colsey. “We see them all the time, so it was really nice to have an opportunity to be the team that ends the streak.”
“I knew it was my last game ... I said this is our moment,” said Muller, who finished with three goals and two assists. “I’ve played four years and finally I just felt that this is it and it was time to seize the opportunity and here we are with the win. From the beginning of the season until now we felt like this was our moment. We wanted to go here (the state final); we worked harder than any team and were early to every single practice.”
“Our game plan was to limit their possessions, and a lot of it comes as a credit to our offense and coach Colsey’s game plan,” said Isaacson, who was part of a stout Ridgefield defense along with Michael Dobson, Jack Dowd and Gaydos. “I’m speechless right now ... we’ve been working towards this for years.”
Notes: Darien had won the last three Class L state titles, including a 6-5 victory over Ridgefield in the 2015 finals.
The Tigers ended the season with a 16-5 record, while Darien finished with a 22-1 mark.