Miners rally to finals
Needless to say, Jordan proved a little tougher this time around.
Under the lights at Dozier Field in Saturday’s Division I state semifinal, the Park City High School boys’ lacrosse team tied the game with less than three minutes left, then booked its ticket to its first-ever championship on a missile from junior Griffin Perkiel at the end of the first overtime.
It was a far cry from Park City’s first meeting against Jordan, when the Beetdiggers lost 15-6 at Quinn’s before a late-season run landed them in the semis, but the Miners showed enough faith in themselves to withstand a dire scenario.
"Our motto is ‘head, heart and hustle,’" Perkiel said. "We just wanted to win this game. We wanted to make history right here."
With 12 seniors and head coach Ryan Sheaffer leaving the program after this season, Saturday night’s championship game against Brighton at Viewmont High School Stadium (7 p.m.) will be emotional, no matter the outcome.
The only other sure thing is Brighton won’t make it easy. The Bengals have won all 12 games played this season, including a 12-9 home win over Park City that Sheaffer said was less close than the score made it appear.
"Any given team, any given day," said senior Sam Sisk. "We’re going to come out guns blazing and we’ll be ready to go."
They did just that against Jordan, with sophomore Chris Boland scoring from the left side, about 10 yards out, just more than a minute after the opening draw.
Jordan senior middle Ian Spendlove knotted the score at one after a Beetdiggers’ surge, sending a hard shot into the upper reaches of the net after a set-up from junior attackman Harry Robbins.
The Miners gained a man advantage on a Jordan slash, and senior Dillon Dutkanych tied for fourth in the state in assists during the regular season found Perkiel open in front for an easy finish and a 2-1 lead with two minutes left in the first quarter.
Park City senior defenseman David O’Day was penalized for an illegal check early in the second quarter, and Jordan began a trend by capitalizing with a man up.
Sophomore Thayne Stockman worked it over to the left side, where a waiting Woodhead caught it and fired it in on the weak side 2-2.
A backup goalkeeper took the place of sophomore starter Hayden Babka while he recovered from an apparent injury, and Park City noticed, firing a series of quick shots on net until Perkiel connected with senior middle Matt Mersereau for a hard overhand finish that beat the backup low.
The home team went up 4-2 with about 4:30 left in the half. Sisk’s shot-turned-pass across the middle landed flush in the stick of senior Max Vought, who one-timed it home.
Back came Robbins for a score after a slash from Miners junior Tyler Gaebe gave the visitors a man advantage, but Sisk restored the breathing room when he fielded a ground ball just inside midfield and darted through the heart of the Jordan defense to score on a bounce shot with about two minutes left.
"Anything I could possibly do ground balls, passing, catching, going to the goal I was going to give it my all, because it could be my last game ever," Sisk said.
Jordan finally seized control of the momentum at the seven-minute point of the third quarter. Babka’s outlet pass to Stockman was relayed quickly to Robbins, who spun one way and then another before absorbing contact and scoring over sophomore goalie Peter Hoburg.
Hoburg made a big save and Vought hit the post at the other end, but a slash from Boland gave Jordan the glimpse of a tie it needed. Hoburg denied Taylor Price with a another save, but freshman Calvin Bennion caught the high ricochet and scored to even the game at five and send 100-or-so Jordan fans into a frenzy that never stopped.
As the "Digger Nation" drowned out the home team’s advantage, Mersereau won a prolonged faceoff battle and beat his man to set up Dutkanych. His fellow University of Utah-bound senior sent a quick shot off the keeper’s body and slowly rolling into the net for a 6-5 lead.
Not long after the fourth quarter began, Spendlove received a pass from Stockman and went up and under two defenders to score in the top right corner, again tying the game at six. PCHS called timeout, and Jordan’s players went berserk in the ensuing huddle, jumping up and down and screaming while the slinking Miners regrouped.
Only 10 minutes separated Wednesday night’s winner from the state championship when Robbins took on senior defender Will Yarbenet from behind the net and beat him on a wraparound for a 7-6 Jordan lead.
The Jordan threat didn’t die after taking the lead, but it was quickly evident that O’Day was through letting them get free so easily for shots. He stole a pass across the middle with a leaping grab and dealt a number of bruising hits before the Miners’ finally set up a sustained attack.
Perkiel had his hard shot saved, Vought’s rebound attempt went wide, Mersereau hit the post with a two-man advantage, Perkiel again saw his rocket attempt stopped, junior Mark West botched an open rebound, and Jordan’s enthusiasm had visibly quelled when they called time out with five minutes left.
"I thought we had the game under lock the whole entire time," said senior defender Alex Scott. "I had complete confidence in my offense, our goalie, and our whole entire team."
With little more than two minutes left, Sheaffer called timeout and asked for his clipboard, drawing up a complex play. Whatever it was, it worked. Mersereau set up a streaking West in the middle, and his shot snuck inside the left post for the dramatic, tying goal.
Sudden-death overtime decides the outcome for UHSLL playoff games, and by that time, the "Go Park City!" chants finally began to match the visitors’ chants of "Jordan!"
The Miners started the first, four-minute overtime period a man up with Taylor Price in the penalty for a late hit, but couldn’t seize the chance for the quick score as West and Perkiel missed open shots.
Possession changed hands three times before Perkiel’s fateful goal with 24 seconds left in the first OT.
Sisk, Mersereau and West each took turns colliding with a pack of Jordan defenders to keep the offense alive in the Beetdiggers’ zone, and when Mersereau finally emerged and shoveled it over to Perkiel, the team’s leading scorer made sure not to waste their effort.
"The goalie had taken me out pretty bad, so I wanted to get back at him," Perkiel said. "I ripped my muscles out. I have never ripped so hard before."
Fans poured onto the field as sticks and gloves went flying into the brisk, evening air.
"You don’t get through the playoffs without having to win tough games," Sheaffer said. "It just shows a lot of composure and a lot of heart from those guys."
Sheaffer and the rest of the Miners also complimented the play and progress of their opponents, despite an atmosphere that was testy at times.
"We’re a very young team, and I’m very proud of them for how they came together at the end of the season," said Beetdiggers’ coach John Barraco. "They shocked a lot of people."
The victory was the fifth in a row for the Miners. They have won eight of their last nine, but the school that last beat them (Waterford, 11-10) was no match for Brighton in a 13-5 blowout earlier Wednesday evening at Dozier. No matter, said O’Day.
"Brighton was here scouting us, and they’re going to say ‘That team’s got nothing, we’ve beaten them before,’" O’Day said. "But we’re a whole different team."
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