By Ben Kaufmann
FAIRFAX – If a team is going to win its first playoff game in its first varsity season, it may as well be one to remember. That’s just what No. 3 BFA-Fairfax did in Wednesday’s quarterfinal victory over No. 6 U-32; after falling behind 5-0 to open the game, the Bullets got the contest to overtime and advanced to the Division III semifinal when Jonah Czeck scored as time expired in the first overtime period to give BFA a 10-9 win.
“I’m just super excited for the program,” said BFA coach Dave Adams. “That’s the game of lacrosse and we always tell them that you’ve just got to keep pushing, keep pounding. It never ends til the final whistle and this was a testament to that.”
Czeck and Adam Degree, who assisted Czeck’s winner, led the Bullets with three goals apiece and Kolton Gillian scored a pair of goals on the day.
There was, admittedly, a bit of a confidence problem heading into the game which Fairfax (6-6) had to quickly resolve. The winless Raiders (0-12) came out on fire, taking a 4-0 lead after a quarter and scoring another before Logan Estes finally got the Bullets on the board with a goal seven minutes into the second quarter. The rebound was on from there as the hosts cut U-32’s lead to 5-3 at halftime and knotted the score at 8-8 early in the fourth quarter.
“It’s a lesson to never underestimate a team,” Adams said. “If you look at the box score, our first quarter was just incredibly challenging. We picked it up in the second and third and fourth and overtime to win that one. It’s just an amazing win for our seniors.”
One of those seniors, Degree, said the Bullets are a strong enough unit to confidently overcome the early deficit.
“We started out a little bit asleep and then we woke up and started playing our game instead of their game and we went from there,” Degree said. “I think all of us were just really good about hyping everyone up and we knew we had to keep our heads up and that we could win this.”
After Estes brought the Bullets to life in the second quarter, Joey Spiller scored a beauty of a goal over the head of U-32’s charging goaltender to cut the Raider lead to 5-2. Degree whipped in a long shot just seconds after the restart to bring BFA within two goals and send the game to halftime with the Raider lead down to 5-3.
The third quarter saw BFA build on that momentum but also brought great fight from the Raiders. Gillian scored a rocket of a goal on a free play in the first minute to get BFA within one before the visitors responded with two scores to push their lead to 7-4. Gillian tallied his second in a row midway through the quarter but U-32 struck next to take an 8-5 lead. Fairfax got the last laugh when Derrick Sloan finished a crafty shot with 3:10 left in the frame to get the Bullet deficit to 8-6 entering the fourth.
A massive save from Max Mills, who made six stops on the afternoon, opened the final quarter and gave the Bullets a fighting chance. Degree set up Czeck with just over two minutes gone to get the Bullets within one and a phenomenal long pass from Max Sturm led to another Czeck goal just 32 seconds later. The 8-8 tie was the first time U-32 wasn’t in possession of the lead since going up 1-0 with 2:27 gone in the opening quarter.
The comeback looked complete when Degree scored with 8:13 left in regulation and BFA on a power play, but U-32 dug deep and equalized on a stunning coast-to-coast goal with four minutes left. A pair of strong saves on shots from Bryce Fontaine in those final four minutes kept BFA from winning in regulation and forced extra time.
Chances were few and far between in overtime with both teams having spent up what was in the tank through 48 minutes of regulation in sweltering heat. Another good save on Fontaine with a minute to go made it appear as though the game was destined to continue. With well under 10 seconds left, Degree picked up a loose ball barely into U-32’s end of the field. The crowd yelled for him to try a Hail-Mary shot but Degree had other ideas and launched a pass to Czeck not far from the Raider net.
“Honestly, I knew the pass was coming but I had no idea what time was on the clock, so I just got lucky with that,” Czeck said.
“I knew there wasn’t much time, I didn’t know exactly how much though,” Degree said with a smile, noting that he liked BFA’s chances with Czeck shooting with any amount of time left. “I have full confidence in him. Me and him have been playing for years, I trust him.”
For his part, Adams said he was sharing the thoughts of everyone else in attendance and expected Degree to try a long shot with so little time left, but he’s glad that isn’t the way things played out.
“I saw four seconds and it was on the ground, I figured we were going to another overtime,” he said. “And we were running out of gas, so it was nice to see that one hit the back of the net. A huge win for the program.”
Czeck tried his luck and hit the jackpot, sending BFA to a Monday semifinal with a goal which may not be topped even if the Bullets follow this inaugural campaign with 100 more seasons.
It wouldn’t be right to praise just the scorers and Mills, as great as they all were on Wednesday. Sloan, Fontaine, Reece Decker, Teddy Munson and Sturm patrolled the midfield brilliantly. Caden Getty, Wyatt Magnan and Brody Hamel played outstanding defense, especially after letting the Raiders get ahead early. Munson and Getty both had crucial steals in front of the BFA goal in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter.
“They started to wake up and once we all woke up as a team and realized that they came to play, we finally showed up as well and had a good game,” Adams said.
Fairfax moves on to Monday’s semifinal at No. 2 Montpelier (5-3), a team the Bullets beat to close the regular season. Despite the win in that contest, don’t expect BFA to enter another game underestimating its opponent.
“It was another close, close game,” Adams said of his team’s 12-11 victory over the Solons less than a week ago. “So it’s going to be another challenge, we’re going to have to come out really excited.”