MILTON - The game was chaotic and the urgency was palpable when Lambert Longhorns director of lacrosse Rich Wehman called a timeout with 1 minute 31 seconds left in the Class AAAAAA semifinals. Lambert’s eight-goal lead was down to two. Milton’s all-American senior Nick Newell was unrelenting. The Longhorns’ offense was hibernating.
Wehman had saved one timeout for a moment just like this.
“Coach pulled us aside and said, ‘Take a deep breath. You’ll be just fine,’” Lambert sophomore middie Trey Arnold said.
Lambert promptly caused a turnover and ran out the clock for a 10-8 victory over Milton on Tuesday to clinch a spot in the state championship for the fourth straight season. The Longhorns will play at Roswell, a 12-8 winner over Walton, on Saturday, another road playoff game for the third-seeded Longhorns who previously beat North Gwinnett and Harrison on their home fields.
“Being the third seed, we had a pretty tough road,” Lambert senior attack Sean Carruthers said, “but glad we were able to get it done.”
“To get [to state the state title], it’s a great tribute to the kids,” Lehman said. “They’ve worked hard all season. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. It’s fantastic.”
Lambert (17-4) had moments during the regular season of building early leads, and the Longhorns led 5-1 at halftime and 10-2 going into the fourth quarter Tuesday. Carruthers had four goals, including three straight in the second quarter as Lambert began to take control. Jake Stanford had two goals while Arnold, Hayden Barnes, Hunter Clem and Nick Shumate each scored a goal.
“[Carruthers] is an All-American, and he’s playing like one,” Wehman said. “Big players step up in big games. The funny thing is they know who he is and still he’s very difficult to stop.”
Arnold was tasked with dueling Milton senior All-American Hunter Sanna for faceoffs. He wasn’t satisfied with his performance against Sanna in Lambert’s 13-11 victory at Milton on March 18. Arnold called that meeting a draw, but it informed him how to better approach Sanna this time.
Mainly, if Arnold couldn’t win the faceoff outright, he let Sanna clamp down on the ball and try to hit it out from Sanna’s stick.
“I kind of played a chess match with him,” Arnold said. “I would try to do something he wasn’t ready for.”
Through three quarters, Arnold dominated, and so the Longhorns did too.
The swing of fortune began with a goal by Milton senior attack Jake Jenkins with 11:45 left in the game. Until then, Lambert had a firm grip on the game’s pace. Thanks to Arnold and deft team passing, the Longhorns had several lengthy possessions on offense that kept the pressure on the Eagles (18-3). Milton didn’t move the ball into Lambert territory until 5:31 left in the first quarter in which the Longhorns out-shot the Eagles, 11-3.
Once Jenkins struck, something changed in the Eagles. Justin Newell scored with 8:19 left. Then Nick Newell erupted for four straight goals, the last with 1:40 remaining.
So Wehman used his last timeout.
“They just started making plays,” Carruthers said. “There was a point where I took a pretty bad percentage shot from a bad angle, and they immediately took it down and scored. Things like that, mistakes like that, can change momentum so fast.”
“We just needed our defense to make a play there,” Wehman said.
Lambert senior defender Connor McCann came through, causing a turnover and a loose ball that sophomore defender Brady Berman scooped up.
The Longhorns ran out the remaining time on the clock, players stormed the field and Lambert earned more validation for its dynastic success.
“We always know when we play Milton it’s going to be a tough game,” Carruthers said. “Regardless of who won the last game, it’s always a battle. You just got to come out and play hard. You’ve got to prepare for every game and be ready.”