“Everything negative – pressure, challenges – are all an opportunity for me to rise.” – Kobe Bryant
Someone grab a feather. Had anyone predicted The Falcons would throttle the Landsharks, you could’ve knocked me over with it. Heading into this rematch, anticipation ran high. So did the nerves and stomach acid.
At the opening face-off, players, coaches, and parents held their collective breath. Fortunately, no one turned blue as Mason Howard flicked the ball to William to Owens who slung it to Moorman breaking fast towards the goal. Duncan slammed it home for the first score – 14 seconds into the game! To borrow from that Apollo crowd, “thanks fellas, you got us breathing again….”
Flora got right back to work. Taking the next face-off, the offense works it around horn. Sharp passing lulls the Landsharks’ defense into a trance as Charlie Riley winds up at the top of box and sails one into the back of net. Less than two minutes in, and The Falcons jump to a 2-0 lead.
Is this the Oceanside squad that lost in-state for the first time ever only five short weeks ago? On the third face-off, Mason locks his opponent in a scramble until Braden Smith grabs a loosie. Only this time, the Landsharks intercept a pass and shift to offense.
Changing ends of the field, The Falcons defense comes out right away and challenge the attack. Oceanside tries a bounce shot from top left of the box. In the last home game of his career, Keeper Lee makes a solid save and clears it back upfield pdq.
Content with a fast paced offense, Pierce Mills zips it to Henry Gibson who plants, pivots, and lets loose a cannon shot for another Falcon goal.
Before 4 minutes have run off the clock, The Falcons jump out to a 3-0 lead.
Stories, whether fact or fiction, tend to get embellished over time. In retelling the plot of this semi-final game, people who weren’t there are going to think you’re pulling their leg – even as you recount every detail with complete accuracy. Howard continues to dominate the face-off, fighting through a triple team to win control and keep The Falcons on offense. Charlie Riley’s shot is deflected, but Pierce Mills alertly snags it, and they work the ball around the perimeter. Freshman Wright Gibson feeds Riley who’s body language tells it all. The goalie had no chance as Charlie plants, winds up, and rifles another one past him. Falcons go up 4-0, and Oceanside calls a time out to regroup less than halfway (6:53) into the first quarter.
Are you kidding me? Who saw this coming?
Posted throughout the facility should be oxygen and defibrillators. I’m not sure we’d planned for the stress of this kind of excitement!
Go figure – the crowd sways and roars as Gary Glitter’s Rock and Roll Part II – and the carnage continues. Before the first period ends, Riley picks up an assist as Duncan Moorman zips a worm burner under the goalie’s outstretched stick. And The Falcons take a breather with a 5-0 lead.
And they roll right from the beginning of the second quarter. Howard owns the face-offs. The offense works the perimeter with crisp passing and hard shots. George Gallagher joins the feeding frenzy, grabbing a loosie and slapping it in the back of the net.
Falcons lead 6-0. They take the face-off again and miss on the shot. A donnybrook breaks out at midfield, and Oceanside emerges with the ball. Working with dispatch, an attackman slips past Holmes and slaps it over Lee’s stick to put the Landsharks on the board at 6-1.
That’s more typical of what we’d expected from Oceanside. How will The Falcons respond? Howard works the face-off to keep a ground ball alive until Owens sweeps in to grab it.
Braden Smith fires from the top of box but misses. Resetting the offense, Smith draws defenders as he slashes toward the goal. Braden dumps it off to Henry who’d filled top of box. Gibson nails another goal before the Oceanside keeper even saw it go by. Falcons lead 7-1 with 9:11left in the first half.
A routine equipment check costs Oceanside as they’re slapped with a 2 minute unreleasable violation. Falcons are also automatically given possession as the power play begins. With patient but crisp passes, Henry Gibson behind goal hits Charlie Riley on the right wing, and Charlie slams home another one for Flora. 8-1 (8:46)
Flora is still a man-up on offense. Pierce Mills shoots from top twice but is wide both times. Charlie Riley scores a hat trick on the power play. Flora’s lead stretches to 9-1 at the 7:14 mark.
With 3 seconds still left on power play, Howard grabs another face-off. He sends the ball to Gallagher. George plants and zips a laser into the back of net. 10-1 at 7:00, as the Falcons net three goals on a 2 minute man-up advantage.
Oceanside manages to repeat their move on the left side of the crease and score to make it 10-2. Flynn Bowie flashes over the next time they try that play and smack the ball out before the attack can raise his stick to shoot. Note to the opponent’s OC – try something else in the next half.
HALFTIME – FLORA 10 and OCEANSIDE 2
Students and parents are on fire as play resumes in the third quarter. No one expected Flora to jump out early and hold such a commanding lead halfway through the semi-final contest.
But this Oceanside team is good. And in LAX, it doesn’t take long for the pendulum to swing. Would Flora stand fast or would Oceanside mount a comeback?
As expected, The Landsharks showed why they deserved respect and high State and National rankings all season long. Midway through the 3rd, they closed the score to 10-5 with 3 unanswered goals. The Flora crowd was still loud, but there was an undeniable strain of anxiousness cutting through the cheers.
Whew – exhale Falcon fans. That was a close as it got. Henry Gibson notched another goal to push the lead back to 11-5 with just under 6 minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Landsharks never challenged after that. Not that they didn’t play their hearts out. But so did The Falcons. The defense was in lockdown mode – Chapman Lee, Charlie Griffin, Banks Hudson, Flynn Bowie, William Owens, and everyone who touched that sweet, slick artificial turf made sure that Oceanside was pressured on every possession, challenged on every shot.
Riley, Griffin, Moorman, Mills, Smith, the Brothers Gibson – every Falcon who touched the ball on offense had the defense on their heels. Play was hard fought back and forth. But down the stretch, The Falcons were firmly in command and showed with sweat and aggressive play they were not about to let up.
If the Landsharks wanted back in this one – with a shot at the State title on the line – they’d have to come take it away from Flora. And The Falcons made sure that wasn’t going to happen – not on this day.
Every time Oceanside applied pressure on defense or challenged on offense, The Falcons rose to the occasion. Nothing punctuated that more than the waning seconds of the match.
With 22 seconds to play, a Landshark snuck behind one of our d-poles and surged at the crease. Facing the final shot on his home field mano-a-mano, Lee locked eyes with the attackman as he shot point blank in Chapman’s face. The Senior Caption stepped into it and, without flinching, snatched the ball from midair like he was swatting a mosquito.
Lee cleared downfield as players scrambled for the loosie until the final buzzer sounded.
The Falcons had faced the same determined rival for the second time in as many months. The first one had gone down to the wire. This time, they manhandled their opponent right from the start, and they never let up.
Final score: AC Flora – 18 and Oceanside – 5. That sends the Landsharks home and The Falcons to the State Championship against the Battling Bishops of Bishop England High School.
One more tough hill to climb? Heck yes. Impossible? Heck no. Go Falcons – see you in the finals!
“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela