Wildcats Drop Nailbiter to #13 BYU

by Jeff Herr

LAS VEGAS, NV - On a sunny afternoon in Las Vegas  -- and with just over a minute left in the game against Brigham Young University -- the Arizona Wildcats were sitting on a two-goal lead, sensing that victory was just moments away. Instead, they were stunned, shocked and shelled with disbelief! 

 "This one was a tough pill to swallow," said Arizona Head Coach Matt Blamey. "We felt like we had it in hand. Then things collapsed in the last minute of the game."

 The #13th ranked Cougars did not roll over under the two-goal deficit late in the game. Rather, they battled back with yet another fierce ride, forcing another turnover from 17th-ranked Arizona. BYU quickly capitalized on this advantage, driving through the Arizona defense to score and tie the game 13-13.

Now with less than 30 seconds left and the game tied the Cats remained confident as they settled in for the faceoff. Just win the faceoff and drive in a game-ending goal. That was the hope of the Arizona faithful. And for good reason. The Cats had been dominant at the X for much of the game, showing great improvement and flashes of excellence. And goalie Wyatt Hill was a wall in the cage, racking up 20 saves for the day.

But BYU's faceoff specialist Conner Williams had a different game plan. After winning the faceoff Williams scampered through the Arizona defense to score the game-winning goal with just seconds left on the clock. The Arizona men stood stunned on the field. "Some of the guys had their heads down thinking that the loss was on them. We made it clear that the final results isn't about one play. Coaches and players made mistakes. Each one contributed to the final outcome," Blamey said.

The loss to BYU was a brutal reversal from the previous four game winning streak. That power run also included four road wins against Washington (10-7), San Diego State (13-8), Claremont (21-8) and a major 11-10 win over then-#4 Michigan State.

The Arizona defense gave up a season high of 14 goals to a relentless BYU attack. Arizona's defense also delivered some exceptional one-on-one and team defense, Blamey said.

Faceoff Specialist Chase Lynch and middie Daniel Rodriguez led the team in ground balls, with seven and four respectively. Defensive midfielder Ben Callaghan and longstick middie Hayden Rodenbeck chipped in with three GBs each. Faceoff specialist Evan Vogel, defenseman Kobi Buckley and Liljenstolpe had two ground balls each. Defensemen Akiah Cepoelik, Exton Bassett and Barry Baker had a ground ball apiece. Solid work on ground balls was indeed a challenge as the game was played on a ragged field at Tropical Breeze Park in Las Vegas.

At the other end of the field, the Arizona attack and middies were very efficient throughout the day, with a very high shot-to-goal ratio in all four quarters. Arizona fired 41 shots to score 13 goals. BYU took 51 shots to net 14 goals.

Offensively the Cats brought a healthy mix of scorers. A total of eight Wildcats scored goals in the game. On attack, Luke Liljenstolpe led with three goals, Quinn Carrigan and Mason DePaola had two nuggets apiece and Greg Scholz had a goal. The middies kept busy on offense, too. Peyton Boyd had two goals and an assist, Seamus Hughes had one goal and two assists, Alec Moen had a goal. Lynch had a goal and Callaghan had an assist.

After the game Blamey found a little solace amid the sting of sudden defeat. "I'm not sure we would have any great benefit had we squeaked out a win," he said. "This needs to serve as a wake-up call for our young men. Because of the loss, I think the guys will take their roles more seriously. We will grow from this."

Arizona has a 5-3 record overall with four games to go. BYU has a 4-4 record with six games remaining. Since the BYU game, Arizona actually moved up in the rankings to 15th place. BYU is now ranked #12.

Up next for Arizona is a March 23rd home game against Oklahoma. Game time is 1 p.m. at David Sitton Field.