NEW CANAAN -- Both the New Canaan and Staples boys lacrosse teams felt a whirlwind of emotions in the final minutes of their FCIAC quarterfinal on Friday afternoon at Dunning Field.
The Rams, who led nearly the entire game, had a four-goal second half lead evaporate before pulling out a dramatic victory in the final seconds to preserve their hopes of a third straight FCIAC title.
Harry Stanton scored four goals, including the game-winner with 7.5 seconds remaining, lifting New Canaan to a 9-8 win over Staples and a spot in the FCIAC semifinals. No. 4 New Canaan will meet top-seeded Darien on Tuesday at Brien McMahon High School at 5 p.m.
"(Stanton) is unbelievable, he wants the ball in his stick with the game on the line," New Canaan coach Chip Buzzeo said. "We actually called a play for him to make an assist. ¦ Hats off to Staples; what an unbelievable game."
After Staples senior Will Johnson scored with 29.8 seconds left to tie the game at eight, Teddy Dumbauld won the ensuing faceoff and quickly found Stanton. With time running out, Stanton had little choice but to run an isolation play and take a shot at the cage. Stanton beat Wreckers goalie Cole Gendels with a low shot that bounced off the turf.
"It was just a pressure moment," Stanton said. "I looked up and there was 15 seconds left. My teammates cleared the right side for me; I dodged left and rolled back. I knew I had to put it low; it skidded off the wet ground and fortunately went in."
Staples' Eric Zurmuehle won the final faceoff following Stanton's goal and raced down the field. Zurmuehle got a shot off with two seconds left from distance, but New Canaan goalie Trent Nader made a comfortable save to seal the win.
Staples pulled to within 7-6 with 7:47 left in the fourth quarter, but lightning halted play for 30 minutes. Following the delay, Johnson scored off a pass from Patrick Lesch to tie the game. Stanton gave New Canaan an 8-7 lead with 4:57 left and the teams traded possessions before Johnson's equalizer. Johnson scored all four of his goals in the fourth quarter.
"(Johnson's) been doing that all year," Staples coach Paul McNulty said. "He came up with that goal at the end to tie it there. We ask him to carry us and he does."
The Rams, who never trailed, dominated the first half and could have secured the win early if not for a sensational performance by Gendels (15 saves). Both Buzzeo and Stanton credited him for keeping the Wreckers in the game.
"(Gendels) was the difference-maker in my opinion in the first and second quarters," Buzzeo said. "He made some saves that could have put the game out of reach."
Gendels and the Staples defense kept the team's hopes alive by holding the Rams attackers at bay. Lesch scored late in the third quarter to pull to within 7-4 before Johnson took over and gave the Wreckers hope.
"New Canaan has a lot of skill players with a high lacrosse IQ," McNulty said. "At the beginning of the game that showed. ¦ But slowly we got better; we were able to pick it up on offense."
Staples pulled out an 8-7, double-overtime win against the Rams last year by rallying in the same fashion. The teams didn't meet in the regular season this spring, but the memory of that game was on the mind of the Rams down the stretch.
"That feeling came back," Stanton said. "It looked like last year; we didn't want to go to overtime against these guys."
New Canaan 9, Staples 8
STAPLES 1 1 2 4 -- 8
NEW CANAAN 4 1 2 2 -- 9
Records: Staples 12-5, 9-3 FCIAC; New Canaan 13-3, 10-2. Scoring: S -- Michael Reale 1g, 2a; Peter Blevins 1g; Patrick Lesch 1g, 1a; Tucker Bobrow 1a; Will Johnson 4g; Jack Greenwald 1a; Connor Chamberlin 1g. NC -- Michael Kraus 2g; Justin Meichner 1g, 4a; Robby Paul 1g; Teddy Bossidy 1g; Kyle Smith 1a; Cole Turpin 1a; Harry Stanton 4g. Goalies: S -- Cole Gendels (15 saves); NC -- Trent Nader (7 saves). Shots: S -- 30; NC -- 35.