ROSWELL — The Class 6A state championship game captured Lambert’s season in a nutshell.
The Longhorns came roaring back toward the end, but ended up just a little bit short.
After trailing No. 2-ranked Centennial boys by six goals late in the third period, No. 4 Lambert rallied to make it a one score game midway through the fourth quarter and had an opportunity to tie things up on two different possessions.
Instead, the Knights regrouped and held on for a 15-12 victory on Saturday at The Fortress, denying Lambert a third consecutive state championship.
“I’m incredibly proud of these guys,” Lambert director of lacrosse Rich Wehman said.
“We overachieved this year, there’s no question about it. If you look at the inexperience, the youth and all of that, they did everything that we asked of them and they had a great year.
“That was a very good team we played tonight. We gave it our best, but like I told the kids, ‘We can walk away from the field at the end of the night knowing that we did everything we could possibly do.’”
Spencer Wilson led the Longhorns (15-7) with five goals on only six shot attempts, while Matt Geran, Sean Carruthers and Peyton Smith tallied two apiece. Coleman Sturkey also scored a goal.
Faceoffs presented the biggest challenge for the Longhorns. The Knights (19-3) dominated the battle at midfield in the first half and won 20 of 30 faceoffs for the game.
“That guy [for Centennial] was All-American for faceoffs this year,” Wehman said. “We didn’t know how many we would get, but we knew it would be a little bit of an issue. When you’re losing that many, it’s tough.”
In spite of the disadvantage on faceoffs, Lambert scored three unanswered goals late in the first quarter and pulled ahead of Centennial 4-3 going into the second period.
The Knights regained the momentum with a goal just 28 seconds into the second quarter, sparking a 7-1 run that helped them take a 10-6 lead into halftime. Centennial repeatedly whipped passes in from the side of the field to a player cutting in front of the goal for easy, close-range scores.
“We knew that was what they did,” Wehman said. “We had a plan for it, but my hat is off to them because they were still able to do what they do well even through we were trying to take it away.”
Centennial boosted its lead to 13-7 with 4:36 remaining in the third period before Lambert began a comeback.
The Longhorns scored five consecutive goals, including two by Carruthers, to cut the lead to 13-12 with 8:24 remaining in the fourth period.
“Sean Carruthers had a great game,” Wehman said. “We felt like we had a mismatch there with him and we took advantage of that. When we had that comeback we were basically trying to get the ball in his stick to be the originator on offense and he did a great job.
“We had a chance. We just didn’t make the plays at that point and they did.”
Lambert failed to capitalize on two possessions that could have tied the game, and Brad Mals finally broke the Knights’ 12-plus minute scoring drought with 4:13 remaining. Britton Board tacked on another just 27 seconds later to seal the win.
Longhorns sophomore goalie Garret Gomez finished with 14 saves out of 29 shots on goal. Centennial won the ground ball battle 27-19 and had six fewer turnovers than Lambert.
The 2013 season represented the closest thing Lambert has ever had to a down year. The fourth-year program lost more games this year (seven) than it did in its first three combined (three), yet fell only a few goals short of its third state title despite fielding a lineup heavy on underclassman. The Longhorns won seven of their final eight games after starting off 8-6.
Lambert’s youth is just one of the reasons Wehman thinks the team will remain a championship contender for a long time to come.
“One thing you can take away from this is for the kids that feel that disappointment, it gives them the motivation to work during the offseason,” Wehman said.
“We have a great program and great fan support as you can see, it’s tremendous. I made the comment that I think we had more [fans] here than [Centennial] did, and it’s a home game for them.
“The future is really bright for our program, starting next year.”