FAIRFIELD — Pushed to the brink in the postseason for the second time in 12 days by its biggest rival, the Darien boys lacrosse team found another way to keep its magnificent win streak alive.
For the 76th straight time.
Logan McGoven broke a 7-7 tie with 2:31 remaining and Sean Collins, in a sensational effort, robbed Chris Canet in the final minute for his 18th save to preserve an 8-7 win over New Canaan in the semifinal round of the Class L playoffs.
“I was definitely seeing the ball well today and the defense stepped up in every big moment,” said Collins, a senior and first-year starter who has earned a spot on the top shelf with all his elite predecessors at the position for the Blue Wave. “They were giving me the shots I wanted to see.”
It was the top-seeded Blue Wave’s third win over the Rams this year and they have come by a total of four goals, including a 13-12 decision in the FCIAC championship when Collins made a save at the buzzer.
Darien will play Ridgefield on Saturday in an attempt for its fifth straight title. The Tigers made a furious rally from a five-goal deficit in the second game to forge a 6-5 win.
Collins spent the most time in the spotlight during the opener, but he had plenty of company. Andrew Darby and Matt Gould were outstanding on defense, Jack Joyce and Blake Sommi made big plays, while McGovern and Brian Minicus scored two goals apiece.
The seven share a common trait.
“Seniors came up big today,” Darien coach Jeff Brameier said. “Sean Collins had a lights-out day. Best game of his career at the right time, and Darby and Gould were just beasts. We got enough out of our hobbling attackmen, Logan and Minicus, and then Joyce and Sommi. Those are the guys. Senior leaders making plays.”
Darien (22-0) never led by more than two goals and the Rams (15-5) went ahead just once, at 5-4 on Liam Griffiths’ second goal. Hudson Pokorny, who scored two goals, and Minicus answered under two minutes apart, and then the teams traded scores, with O’Connell completing a hat trick to even the game at 7-7 with 10:18 left.
A defensive chess match ensued, with Collins and the Rams’ Carl Mazabras, who was equally outstanding, trading saves.
Then a steal by Gould fueled a counterattack that led to McGovern’s deciding goal.
“We made plays when we had to on offense, that was the key thing,” Brameier said. “We didn’t let them gain separation when they got that one goal lead and we came right back and tied it up, and then we got a couple transition goals, which is part of our game. It’s not our only game. That was some great fast-break goals. Jack Joyce got one and then sets up another one when Logan scored the game-winner.”
It was another disheartening loss for the Rams, who played their best game of the season yet again came up just short, missing on two final equalizing attempts.
Darien has now won five times this season by one goal and twice by two scores.
“Both goaltenders played well,” New Canaan coach Chip Buzzeo said. “I told the guys just now I’ve never been in a game where you dominate another team and you lose. They just happened to do one better thing and that was score one more goal. You look at everything else that we did today, we outplayed them in every single part of the game. It’s a tough game to swallow.”
Buzzeo realigned his defense and put Walker Ker, playing with a torn labrum, on McGovern, who is still hobbled by an ankle injury. Jackson Braden was also a leader for the Rams on defense.
“We got a lot of guys coming back so hopefully they remember this and it motivates them throughout the next year,” Buzzeo said. “I just hope people can give our kids some respect. Every time we lose to Darien or we play a close game with Darien it’s because they didn’t do what they wanted to do. The bottom line is we can play with them, they scored one more goal than us, we dominated them today. They’re probably breathing a sigh of relief. We should have won that game and we didn’t.”
So how have the Blue Wave managed to keep their streak alive despite being tested so often in the fourth quarter?
“We feel that we work harder than anybody else,” Collins said. “Fifty-fifty balls and everything else. At the end of the game that’s the important stuff. It’s not that we know we are going to win the game. We believe because we work harder than everybody else that we have a good chance to win some of the stuff that can swing a ballgame.”
Brameier touched on another intangible.
“The element is the character and the tradition of the program,” Brameier said. “They’ve had that bull’s-eye on their backs a long, long time, had that streak sitting there and they’ve been able to weather that storm and they’ve got one more coming on Saturday. We’ll be ready.”
In the nightcap, the Tigers hardly touched the ball for the first two and a half quarters. Over 33 minutes into game they had yet to score. They trailed 5-0, but if not for strong defense the deficit would have been unmanageable.
“It was tough to get started in the first half but we’ve been here before and we had to stick to the process,” Ridgefield midfielder Greg Gatto said. “After enough time we’d get going and we did.”
The catalyst was the first of Dawson Muller’s two goals, with 2:37 left in the third quarter.
“We’ve played so many games from behind the last two years we didn’t panic at all,” Gatto said. “Once we got going then we’d be unstoppable. We just had to get in our groove and once we hit we went the rest of the game.”
Ridgefield (15-5) more accurately floored it, needing just four minutes and 45 seconds to score, with two goals from Ray Dearth and another by Weston Carpenter.
Tigers coach Roy Colsey moved Luke Gaydos, known primarily for being a defensive stopper, to draw controls.
Time of possession issues solved.
“The change in the game was us being willing to play settled when we had to and then Gaydos winning all the faceoffs,” Colsey said. “He was the guy. He literally changed the game himself. He won every single faceoff.”
The score remained stalemated at 5-5 until late, when Gatto, an All-American who did not make his first appearance until the last game of the regular season due to a broken wrist, finished off a feed from John Mathes with 1:50 remaining.
“Great pass by John Mathes,” Gatto said. “He’s a young sophomore stepping up. I was working the crease all game and saw the opportunity and went for it.”
There was a stark change in tempo for the Tigers over the final 15 minutes.
“We do like to play fast and it’s hard to play fast when you barely touch the ball, so you make bad decisions within those first 10 seconds and they keep it for three minutes and the game was just kind of slipping away from us,” Colsey said of the turnaround.
Now the Tigers are the last team up to try and keep Darien from a third straight unbeaten season.
“That’s how we want it,” Gatto said. “We were rooting for Darien in the semis so it’s a great opportunity.”