The Fighting Bison fought off a late charge from the Rivermen to earn a hard-fought 14-12 victory Friday night at The Rinks Irvine. With the win, the Colorado champs took a 1-0 series lead in the National Collegiate Box Series (NCBS) National Championship.
“Good teams find a way to win, and I think that’s what we did tonight,” said Fighting Bison coach Jeremy Noble. “We weren’t at our best, but credit goes to the team from Ohio. They were very good tonight.”
The inaugural event, hosted at the USBOXLA Nationals, was as advertised as the top talent in the collegiate box game entertained fans to the final minute. It was an offensive display by the Fighting Bison’s Jake Taylor and the Rivermen’s Jack Hannah. Both forwards scored six times and each notched crucial goals in the game’s final minute. Taylor’s marker with 40 seconds to play proved to be the game-winner as he scored off a one-handed backhander to give his team a 13-11 lead. Not to be outdone, Hannah ripped a shot home on the power play with 18 seconds to play. The Fighting Bison added an empty netter to ice the first game of the series.
“It was a great game,” said Taylor, who is an incoming freshman at the University of Notre Dame. “They came out strong, and we played well and did what we needed to do.”
The Fighting Bison weathered a second-half comeback bid by the Rivermen, who fell behind 6-2 in the first quarter. The Ohio champions stormed back in the second half to get within one goal three times, including twice in the final 15 minutes.
“We went down early and were a little shell-shocked at the start,” said Hannah, who finished the game with eight points (6+2). “They came out hot, but we kept getting momentum. The penalty box [however] killed us.”
The Fighting Bison scored five power-play goals, using two of those to build two four-goal leads in the first half. The Morrow Cup champions entered the contest on a nine-game winning streak and came out firing as Eric Pacheco won the opening draw and scored just eight seconds into the contest. The Bison, who have never relinquished the lead, opened up a 3-2 game with a late 3-0 run to take a 6-2 lead.
The Rivermen responded with a pair of goals from Hannah. His second of the night sparked a 2-0 run to get his team with two at 6-4 early in the second quarter. Taylor, however, helped restore the two-goal advantage with back-to-back goals. His second marker was a pretty behind-the-back shot that made it 8-4.
“He is a special player and a special person. I have nothing but good things to say about him,” said Noble. “It’s really fun to watch him play and the goals he scores. He had six, but he could have had 10.”
After a tough first half, the Rivermen settled down and opened the third by scoring four of the first five goals to make it 9-8. Ohio Collegiate Box Lacrosse League MVP Jack Hannah had a hand in all four tallies, assisting on Karson Burkey’s goal to open the third and then scoring three times. He also added one goal and one assist in the fourth quarter.
“He’s just relentless,” said Rivermen coach Dan Hardy. “He understands what his role is; he’s earned the role to command the ball that much. He had a slow start, but he started getting those on cage, and they started falling.”
Skylar Whinery of the Fighting Bison and Matt Huizenga of the Rivermen both were stellar in goal. Whinery’s save with under five to play in the second allowed his club to kill off a 5-on-3 power play. Huizenga’s best stop occurred with 8:40 to play as he made a stick save on a penalty shot by TK Hammond, who finished the game with two goals.
“Huizenga has been carrying us for a while,” said University of Denver midfielder Jack Hannah. “Defensively, we figured it out in the second and third quarters. Huizenga kept us in the game for sure.”
Game Two is set for 8:00 p.m. (PST), with the Fighting Bison one win away from winning the inaugural National Championship. The series, which is similar to the championship series of the OCBLL and CCBLL, is a best-of-two with a 15-minute overtime period to break the tie if necessary.