ATLANTA — Like everyone else, Zack Price heard the taunts.
As No. 1-ranked Lambert fell behind No. 3 Westminster 4-1 late in the first period of the Class AAAA-A state lacrosse semifinals, a collective chant of “Overrated” began to rain down from the Wildcats’ fan section.
For the unbeaten, defending state champion Longhorns, owners of the longest winning streak in the nation, overrated is not something they’re often accused of being. So Price and his teammates set out to correct that misconception.
Lambert chipped away at the lead before tying the score going into the final period, then scored four of the game’s last five goals to defeat Westminster 10-7 on Wednesday at the Wildcats’ field. The victory ran the Longhorns’ win streak to 41 games and sets up a rematch of last season’s state title game against Pope.
“That shows we’re not overrated, I guess, as their fans were chanting,” said Price, one of four Longhorns to score a pair of goals.
“[That kind of thing] fuels us. We wanted to prove them wrong.”
Said Lambert director of lacrosse Rich Wehman: “In the three years I’ve been here, I’ve never been more proud of a team to come from behind like we did in an environment like this. That had to be one of the more special wins we’ve had.”
The game was a rematch of the 2011 state semifinals in which Lambert dealt Westminster a 13-1 loss.
This time out, Westminster (14-5, No. 1 seed Area 2-AAAA-A) scored the opening goal a little more than two minutes into the contest. Cory Phillips responded for Lambert (21-0, No. 1 seed Area 3-AAAA-A) less than a minute later, but the Wildcats connected on three consecutive goals during a three-minute stretch later in the period and pulled ahead 4-1 with 3:09 left on the clock.
Peyton Smith answered for the Longhorns with 52 seconds remaining in the first period, marking the last goal scored in the game for more than eight minutes. Matt Geran finally ended the drought with an unassisted goal at the 3:33 mark in the second period, further narrowing Lambert’s deficit to 4-3, but Kennon Stockwell scored with 1:34 left to give the Wildcats a 5-3 lead going into halftime.
The damage could have been worse, as Lambert — playing a man down much of the first half — drew two penalties on Stockwell’s goal. Westminster got possession of the ball and Lambert had to temporarily play at a two-man disadvantage.
“Early in the game ... we weren’t sliding like we normally play on defense, and once we adjusted and starting playing like we normally do, things started to turn around a little bit for us,” said Wehman, who wasn’t sure when was the last time his team trailed by three goals in a game.
“A big play was when we were ... down by two men right before the first half ended. We pulled back to [5-3] and then held that going into the second half.
“That was big for the game, a big momentum swing.”
Smith scored precisely four minutes into the third period off an assist by Geran, and Brady Wilson tied the game 5-5 with 4:15 remaining courtesy of one of Ted Ryan’s three assists in the game.
Westminster briefly reclaimed a 6-5 lead, before Price evened the score again with his first goal.
Accustomed to playing their home games on a turf field, the Longhorns struggled to keep their footing throughout the game and were forced to adjust to the way the playing surface affected bounce shots.
By the fourth period, they seemed to have gotten the hang of it.
Lambert took its first lead of the game less than two minutes into the final quarter, as midfielder Taylor Wharton took the ball from a teammate who had fallen to the turf, ran inside and scored an unassisted goal.
“We knew we had the depth to keep going,” Longhorns senior Colin Massa said. “We’ve got a lot of good midfielders, and we just tried to work every ground ball, every pass, every defensive set and try to get it back.”
Lambert narrowly won the ground ball battle in the end, 24-23. Massa and Price led the way with four apiece, while Patrick Joyce added three.
Midway through the fourth quarter, Price scored again off an assist from Ryan, and Wilson fired in Lambert’s fourth consecutive goal with 4:50 remaining.
Westminster cut the lead to 9-7 and had multiple chances to make it a one goal game, but Lambert’s defense held firm, and Phillips scored with 25 seconds remaining to eliminate any chance of a rally.
“Once one side clicks, once the offense starts to get goals, then the defense feels a little more confident,” Joyce said. “Once the defense makes a stop, the offense can go down and score. It’s just an awesome cycle for us.”
Though the jeers from Wildcats’ fans may have served as extra incentive for Lambert, Price said the support of the Longhorns’ own fans was equally important.
Midway through the game, Lambert’s cheering section moved en masse from the visitors bleachers to a vacant side of the home stands to be closer to the players.
“I’d like to give a little shout out to our fans,” Price said. “When they came over on this side, they actually helped us out a lot.”
Lambert will host Pope in the state championship match at 7 p.m. Saturday at The Horn. The Longhorns won the school’s first state title with a 14-7 victory over the Greyhounds on May 12, 2011.