CLARK, NJ - Tied 3-3 at the half of their Union County Tournament (UCT) Final against Westfield, the Summit High School Boys Varsity Lacrosse team worked their tails off for the next 23 minutes of game-clock time to craft a 6-4 lead, putting themselves just 60 seconds away from the UCT title.
The challenge is that a lacrosse half is 24 minutes long and, in this case, the final minute of this contest -- the 24th minute -- will earn, from a Maroon & White faithful perspective, instant, automatic entry into the House of Horrors Hall of Fame.
Up by two and with the ball, Summit turned it over and saw Nick Bond of the Blue Devils halve the advantage with 34.9 seconds left. Winning the next face-off, the Hilltoppers looked certain to run the clock out, but turned it over again.
Just 15 seconds remained and the ball wound up in the stick of Westfield goalie Toby Burgdorf, who slung the ball down field in the general direction of the Summit goal -- pretty much a lacrosse version of a football "Hail Mary" pass.
High in the air but losing the battle to gravity, the ball appeared to deflect off something as it fell earthward, landing just outside the Summit goal crease, then bouncing off the turf, appearing to hit just under the crossbar, and falling just in front of the goal line.
The was a brief moment of mass confusion, until two black and white uniformed arms thrust in the air signaling a goal. Was it a goal? All that matters is that it was called a goal, credited to Burgdorf and -- courtesy of a Franco Harris "Immaculate Reception" moment -- the game was tied, 6-6.
Stunned by a goal scored in the final 15 seconds, by the opposing team's goalie, from essentially his own crease, the Hilltoppers had to emotionally hit the reset button and gear up for overtime.
Both teams had possessions in the first -- and the second -- extra sessions. It looked certain the teams were headed for third overtime, when Devon McLane drilled a low shot past Teddy Cranley with just 1.5 seconds left in the period.
Westfield 7, Summit 6 was the final, and the prevailing sentiment was:
Summit had beaten Westfield three-plus weeks ago and the Hilltoppers had a clear edge in play on that day. It was clear early on in this game, however, that Westfield was elevating their game.
The Blue Devils led 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 in the first half, with all three goals coming off the stick of Brendon Leuthold. Summit answered with tallies from senior captain Evan Kulpan, junior Corey McManus, and senior captain Andrew Chase.
Kulpan was the catalyst in the second half, notching his second and third goals of the game in the third quarter, and his fourth at the 8:39 mark of the final frame. Westfield managed a lone marker from James Bohlinger.
The 6-4 lead should have held -- it didn't -- and now Summit must gather itself, swallow the metaphorical bitter pill the result affords, and take knowledge from the macabre hows and whys surrounding it.
Cranley finished with 10 saves for the Hilltoppers, now 14-1 on the season.
"Credit to Westfield for playing hard all the way to the end," said Summit Head Coach Jim Davidson. "They made the plays and we didn't. We have to regroup. learn from it and get better."
Summit returns to Investors Bank Field to take on Ridgewood May 11. Face-off is set for 4:30 p.m.
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