Eastern Secures MAC Championship in OT over Widener

ST. DAVIDS, Pa.- The final MAC Men's Lacrosse Championship turned out to be one for the ages. Eastern erased a four-goal deficit to earn a 12-11 overtime win over Widener. Aaron Benz made 20 stops, many of them spectacular, to earn Championship MVP honors.

Junior attack Chris Farrar scored with 2:08 remaining in the first overtime period to send the Eastern faithful on the hill overlooking Olson Field into a next-level frenzy. Farrar's game-ending heroics would not have been possible without several spectacular and equally heroic efforts in the come-from behind win.

The two sides traded goals through a closely contested first period of play. Will Johnson scored the game-opening goal on a tight crease feed from Chris Farrar only two minutes into the game. One minute later, Widener's Robert Clemons then fed Kyle Blakemore for the Pride's first of the day. Had Widener held on, Clemons would have been a top-candidate for Most Outstanding Player Honors, the sophomore attack finished with a game-best five assists.

Matt Soldano gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead on a left-handed bounce shot from ten yards out, but Widener answered with goals from Michael Bassani and Johnny Casey to grab a 3-2 edge with slightly more than a minute to play in the opening quarter. Soldano then tied the match at 3-3 with 39 seconds left on a skip pass from Will Johnson.

The first nine Eastern goals of the match came from midfielders.

"Their close defenders," Eastern Head Coach Kevin Wallace stated," were really tough, and we knew that going in. Our attack men just had to keep moving and running hard, but we knew we needed to get goals from the midfield. Matt [Soldano] got us off to a good start dodging hard."

Widener had a 12-8 edge in shots through the opening 15 minutes of action.

First year midfielder Eric Waibel stung the upper corner with a twenty-yard missile to put the Eagles up 4-3 early in the second, but Widener's Josh Fox answered with a pair of goals ninety seconds apart to put the Pride up 5-4.

With time running down in the first half, Wallace called a time-out with Waibel apparently in trouble behind the Widener goal. By the time the official had granted the time out, Waibel had extricated himself from the situation and put in what the crowd believed to be a game-tying goal. The score, however, did not stand, and out of the time-out, the Pride forced a turnover and scored the final goal of the half on a pretty transition pass from Clemons to Blakemore for a 6-4 halftime edge.

The Pride lead grew to 7-4 on a Brian Rogers goal from behind the cage. The Widener senior rolled around the crease and threw a fake to the alley that forced the second defender to step back slightly. He took full advantage of the tight opening to stuff a left handed shot past Benz from close range.

AJ Ryan, who was dominant at the Face-off X all day, then brought the crowd back into the game with an unassisted goal six seconds later. Ryan won 20 of 26 draws to give the home-side a decided advantage in possession off face-offs.

The crowd's enthusiasm did not translate directly into momentum on the field as Widener grabbed possession and put the Eastern defense uder pressure for the middle portion of the third period. Benz made seven of his 20 saves in the third, but the Pride managed a man-up goal with eight and a half to play and an even-strength tally with 4:02 on the clock to build a 9-5 lead with time slipping away for the Freedom Champion Eagles.

Andy Jameson started the Eastern rally with a solo effort with 2:36 left in the period and Zac Ivy fed Will Johnson with a perfect skip pass to cut the deficit to 9-7 with :43 seconds left in the third. Ryan won yet another draw, but the the ball squirted away from the center toward the Widener bench. Ron Johnson out-raced his opposing wing and tip-toed on the sideline while corralling the ground ball. The junior defensive midfielder saw a transition chance and capitalized with a hesitation move at the edge of the crease and a shot just under the bar with 28 ticks on the clock.

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