NORWALK — As a reporter approached Roy Colsey prior to today’s Class L championship game, the Ridgefield boys lacrosse coach offered a hello, a handshake and a little bit of breaking news.
“You’re going to hate the way we play today,” Colsey said with a smile.
Rather than the fruitful hubris of trying to engage in a track meet with Darien, the winner of 76 straight games, four successive state titles and in contention for a second straight No. 1 ranking in a national poll, Colsey knew if the Tigers had any chance at the upset, he would have to try and go ugly.
“That was the only choice we had was to play that way,” Colsey said minutes after helping to orchestrate, on the final day, perhaps the biggest story of this high school sports season.
After conceding the first goal to the Blue Wave just 48 seconds in, Ridgefield dominated draw controls, time of possession and, most importantly, finished plays. The Tigers stunningly held an 8-2 led midway through the final quarter, then answered a Darien goal with one of their own.
Then, as the finish line was in sight, the Tigers were victimized by one of Darien’s patented runs, the kind that have snatched victory from defeat when necessary for three years.
The Blue Wave won five straight draws, and needed just 1:55 to score each time to get within a goal.
Ridgefield senior Luke Gaydos admitted he had just one thought he repeated to himself: “Don’t let them tie it. Just don’t let them tie it.”
Darien got a final chance to do just that, but Brian Minicus could not get a crisp pass to Logan McGovern, who possessed the ball but was unable to get off a shot. His centering pass was secured by Ridgefield goaltender Daniel Parson, who threw the ball high toward the other side of the field.
Game over. Streak over. National lacrosse world abuzz on social media after word traveled: Ridgefield 9, Darien 8.
Dull lacrosse never produced such invigoration.
“We had to make the next play,” Colsey said. “We needed one stop and one possession. We finally made the last stop. It was a nerve-wracking. Every guy executed the gameplan to a T, if not even better than I could have expected.”
Ridgefield (16-5) won its first state title since 2011, and to truly appreciate the significance, you have to respect what the Blue Wave, playing in one of the country’s top leagues, facing the best opposition in the region, had achieved in falling one game shy of a third straight perfect season.
“We tried to be that boring. It was great. It was really exciting. As exciting as boring can be,” Colsey said. “My hat is off to Darien. They turned this into more than a state championship. A Class L championship and a tremendous record on the line and a streak we were fortunate to stop. My hat is off to them for an incredible accomplishment and making this as great of a win as it was.”
Weston Carpenter led the Tigers with four goals. Dawson Muller added three, while Ray Dearth scored a goal and had three assists.
The catalyst to fulfilling Colsey’s strategy was Gaydos, who had done very little work on draw controls until Wednesday night, when the Tigers trailed Glastonbury 5-0 late in the third quarter and were on the verge of needing to pay the streaming cost or for a ticket to see the final.
Gaydos’ work in the circle was responsible for the furious rally that produced a 6-5 win. If the Tigers were going to turn Colsey’s vision into reality, they needed the ball. That responsibility fell on Gaydos, who was force-fed work during two days of practice.
“Yeah definitely pressure comes along with it but I was ready,” Gaydos said. “I’ve been playing Darien in a big setting like this for four years and I was ready to take it home.”
Fans old enough to remember were treated to lacrosse’s version of Dean Smith’s four-corner offense at North Carolina, when the basketball team won games by killing time in the pre-shot-clock days.
One Ridgefield possession lasted over seven minutes, as they worked the ball around the field, waiting for the right opportunity.
Muller admitted it took time to adjust to such a counterintuitive approach.
“It’s very difficult,” Muller said. “There were a few times where I would sprint by my man, see a shot and pulled it out. We had to scheme away to stop these fast breaks because as you saw at the end that last four minutes, you can see how fast Darien can come down and score over and over again. We knew we had to slow down the ball, seize the opportunities when they were there and not rush it. We just felt good about this gameplan. Slow it down and frustrate them and slowly wear them down to the point where you just get a few goals.”
There is nothing worse than denying sprinters the chance to sprint, and Darien’s discontent with not having the ball for most of the middle periods was palpable.
“They’re very disciplined and they work going to the cage,” Darien coach Jeff Brameier said. “It wasn’t any new mythical strategy. Roy has done this for years, he knows it. It’s hard to run with us, like it showed at the end. He doesn’t want to get in a track meet with us usually. He likes that slow dynamic and he did a great job. You’ve got to give credit where credit is due. They had a gameplan and stuck to it.”
Dating back three days, Ridgefield had outscored two Final Four opponents 14-2 midway through the final quarter today.
A goal by Minicus started the comeback by Darien (22-1), making the score 9-4 with 3:39 left. Tanner Strub won the next draw and Jackson Peters scored 16 seconds later. Two more draws led to goals by Henri Pfeifle and Hudson Pokorny, who led Darien with three. Pfeifle made it 9-8 with 1:55 remaining.
The Blue Wave have been tested this year, winning five times by one goal and twice by two goals.
On this day there would be no equalizer.
“A lot of people say we have nothing to lose but I probably disagree,” Gaydos said. “There definitely is something to lose. This is the last opportunity to knock off this Darien team and it’s my last opportunity in a high school sporting event to get a win.”
With the Darien girls team having their in-state unbeaten streak stopped at 107 by New Canaan in Tuesday’s semifinals, this is the first time since 2004 that Darien will not have an addition for the lacrosse trophy case.
“Enjoy the season and enjoy the history of what we just accomplished,” Brameier said.
It was exactly because of that history that the Tigers could revel in what they too just accomplished.
“Coming into the season we said we wanted this exact game,” Muller said. “When the matchup occurred we knew it was our time.”
As Parson hurled the ball downfield, Colsey went racing down the sideline, his language admittedly saltier than his game plan.
“I have to give you the clean version. I said ‘Holy mackerel,’ ” Colsey said. “This is just a tremendous feeling.”