The Southern Conference lacrosse regular-season title bout between Richmond and Air Force Academy lived up to its billing. The No. 9-ranked Air Force earned a hard fought 9-8 victory and the regular season conference championship in front of 713 fans on the men's lacrosse team's Senior Day at the Robins Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The game was scoreless with 5:42 left in the first quarter when a weather delay was called because of an incoming thunderstorm. Fans expecting the thunder to come from the skies were misled, though – it never came. The thunder came instead from the field.
The physicality, passion, emotion and toughness displayed by both teams throughout trademarked this title game.
After the delay, Air Force’s senior Chris Allen scored the first goal during a man-up with a low-to-low worm burner from the left wing, giving the Falcons a 1-0 lead with 1:20 left in the first quarter.
Richmond retained possession going into the second quarter off of an Air Force penalty and responded with a man-up goal of their own. Sophomore Austin Brown found the back of the net with some high heat from 12 yards to tie the score 1-1.
Air Force then drew two penalties in a single sequence to earn a six-on-four advantage and capitalized with a goal on the crease from sophomore Andrew Tien to give the Falcons a 2-1 lead with 11:27 left in the second quarter.
Richmond again responded and evened the score at 2-2 with 9:35 left in the half when freshman Teddy Hatfield finished an easy chance in front of the crease off a broken clear.
Air Force put an end to the back and forth scoring when it powered in the next three goals to lead at halftime 5-2.
The Falcons continued their run into the third quarter when they scored just 1:08 into the half and then got a huge momentum boost from face-off man sophomore Josh Radjenovich who ran down the heart of the Richmond defense and stuck another goal, just seconds after the first, to push the lead to 7-2.
With under two minutes left in the third quarter and leading 8-3, Air Force was in full control of the game until sophomore Dean Roseman scored a diving goal in transition while navigating through the teeth of the defense with 1:16 left.
The Roseman goal sparked a Richmond flurry of three goals in just over a minute to put the score at 8-6 and all the momentum on Richmond’s side. Fans cheered, “We are U R!” as the game headed into the final quarter.
In the fourth quarter, Richmond junior J.P. Forester scored with 12:04 left to play and then erupted into a fiery celebration that left his Richmond teammates jumping on the bench as the Air Force lead was cut to one goal.
Less than a minute later, the physicality and emotion of the game hit its boiling point. Forester delivered a punishing body check that was ruled clean to Air Force junior midfielder Marcus Ward, which left Ward injured and resulted in Air Force head coach Eric Seremet sprinting and screaming onto the field in protest of the play and in aide of his player.
A five-minute injury timeout ensued and Seremet’s team responded the way one would expect a military academy to in the face of adversity.
Tien initiated the offense from up top, dodged down the alley, drew a slide and fed his teammate Chris Walsch, sophomore, who finished from five yards low-to-low to give the Falcon’s what became their game-winning goal.
The Spiders kept fighting and got another goal from Forester with 5:01 left to again cut the lead to one at 9-8.
Air Force goalie Doug Gouchoe, senior, was brilliant in net with 12 saves and led the Falcons as they fended off numerous possessions from the Spiders in the final five minutes to earn the 9-8 victory. Tien led the Air Force attack with four points on three goals and one assist.
Forester finished with three points on two goals and one assist as well as contributing three tough groundballs for the Spiders.
Both teams came into the game with an unblemished conference record. Richmond falls to 5-1 in conference, 9-4 overall, and receives the second seed in the conference tournament while Air Force improves to 6-0 in conference and claims the number one seed in the tournament, which will be held at Robins Stadium on the weekend of May 5.
Air Force extends its season-long winning streak to 12 with the win.
Richmond is back in action next Saturday at Mercer in its regular season finale before the conference tournament back home at Robins Stadium.