Back to the Future: BYU Wins 4th MCLA Crown
|The offense came alive for Brigham Young after falling
behind early in the MCLA Division I championship game, but Jacob
Houghton (above) and the Cougars defense should be
credited for holding the dangerous Arizona State offense to
just eight goals. The combined effort gave BYU its
fourth MCLA title, tying it with RMLC rival Colorado State for the
© Cecil Copeland
With Michigan out of the picture thanks to a gritty Arizona State defensive effort in the semifinals, it appeared the MCLA was primed to add its seventh different champion in the association's 15 years of existence, and it would come in the form of a Sun Devil.
Then an old friend stopped by to say hello.
Brigham Young, the winner of the first-ever championship and owner of three previous titles, dashed Arizona State's hopes – and the hopes of MCLA fans searching for new blood – with an impressive, 10-8 victory at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., on Saturday night.
From the outset, it was clear ASU did not have the same level of intensity they had in the Michigan win the night before. Despite the Sun Devils taking an early lead, there were symptoms of a potential hangover effect from the monumental win, and that there was trouble looming.
"BYU is a great team and outplayed us today, but we could feel it wasn't like it was against Chapman and against Michigan," said Arizona State head coach Chris Malone. "Guys were searching for the energy. Sometimes they found it, but it wasn't there for the whole 60 minutes."
Meanwhile, on the other side of the field was a team looking to prove that it was still a perennial contender to be feared.
"We didn't think ASU was looking over us," said BYU attackman Ted Ferrin, who was also a member of the last championship team in 2007 and finished with a game-high three goals. "We think everyone has been looking over us all year. We thought we were good, but I guess nobody else did. I definitely thought we were good. We just wanted to prove that we have the talent we think we have and the way to play together."
The Cougars were put to the test in the first quarter. The start of the game looked eerily similar to the beginning of its semifinal match-up with Colorado State in which the Cougars fell behind 4-1 out of the gate. Arizona State took a 3-1 lead on Saturday night when Ryan Westfall ripped a low skip-shop from 15 yards that beat BYU goalie Wes Goar.
"Our guys had a lot of fight in them tonight," said BYU head coach Matt Schneck. "We were pretty sure they would stick to the game plan as best as they could. Even though we were down by a couple of goals, they stuck to it and good things happened."
"We've struggled all season starting out fast," added Cougar middie Tyler Monteath. "We always talk about starting fast, but we always struggle with it a little bit. But once we get going, it's tough to stop our offense."
Just as it had done against the Rams, the Cougars responded with a four-goal run featuring four different players collecting markers, giving BYU a 5-3 lead with 7:30 left in the first half. Westfall would unleash another rocket that Goar had no chance on 14 seconds later to cut the margin to one. But with 25.9 seconds left in the half, the Cougars would balloon the lead back to two when Dan Cole converted a bounce shot for the 6-4 edge.
After a couple of decent chances by both teams, BYU took its biggest lead midway through the third period when Corey Gunderson slammed home a feed from across the cage by Andrew Harding. Westfall countered by finding Eric Nelson on a pretty cross-field pass on the break, which was easily converted to narrow the gap to 7-5.
Just as they had done in the previous two quarters, the Cougars struck in the final minute. This time it was with 9.3 seconds left when 6-foot-6, 235-pound middie Patrick Matheson bulled his way to the net and managed to trickle a bounce shot past ASU netminder Dylan Westfall, handing the Cougars the 8-5 bulge with just 15 minutes left.
Westfall stifled several good BYU chances at the onset of the fourth quarter before Logan Quinn ended a 10 minute Sun Devil scoring drought by striking from 12 yards off a dish from Payson Clark. The lead dwindled to one with 5:27 left in the game when Nelson drove from behind the cage and beat his defender to the inside and dove in front of the crease while flipping the ball into the net.
The Cougars spent the next three minutes taking a series of shots, most of which sailed wide of the mark. The one that was on cage was blunted by Westfall, but an errant clearing pass by an ASU defender sailed into the Sun Devils bench, giving the ball back to BYU.
"They rode really well and gave themselves extra possessions," said Malone. "You can't give good teams two and three chances to score. That's the bottom line. We threw the ball away going from the defensive end to the offensive end way too much. BYU's a very good team and we put ourselves in a tough position."
"When we watched ASU on film and put in the ride we used tonight, we knew we'd have some success with it," said Schneck. "It worked out really well."
With the clock dipping below two minutes and BYU forced to keep it in, Ferrin shook his defender behind the goal and bolted around the crease to give the Cougars a 9-7 lead that sealed the championship.
For those who see new champions as a sign of the MCLA growth, they can take consolation in the fact that this is a very different BYU team that won the previous three championships. It has a new coach, a different approach and a completely different style.
It may not be that great for future diversity, however.
Michigan is gone, but BYU is back, and the Cougars only graduate three seniors.