CONCORD — Jack Duffy knew the history, so he knew not to get too excited.
Sure, La Salle led Garnet Valley by five goals late in the third quarter Tuesday night. Usually, for a team of La Salle’s caliber, that is just short of the green light to start tucking into the post-game pretzels at the bench.
But games against Garnet Valley – three of them in the last four editions of the PIAA tournament, each decided by one goal – have proven not to be ordinary games.
Duffy was ready for the surge, and in the biggest moment, he was ready with the biggest play.
Duffy picked off a pass with the Explorers killing a one-minute penalty in the final 74 seconds to preserve what had been whittled to a one-goal lead, preserving a 9-8 victory for La Salle in the opening round of the PIAA Class 3A tournament.
“I know it’s never going to be easy,” Duffy said. “Going into any of these games, these are all good teams. They’ve all worked hard for the same exact goal that we have and they’ve all put in the work.”
The win ends a two-year states losing streak for the Explorers, the District 12 champion. Their last win came in the 2019 state final. Last year’s defeat was meted out by Garnet Valley, a 7-6 stunner that helped the Jaguars run to the state final.
Shorn of last year’s special senior class, this year’s Jaguars were in states as the sixth seed from District 1, exceeding expectations at every turn. And they did so again Tuesday, in not curling into a ball and dying when Max Wickersham’s fifth goal of the game with 2:37 left in the third made it 8-3.
“Once we see that scoreboard, we think, there’s no other time,” Garnet Valley attackman Colin Smith said. “It’s the end of our season; we’ve got to give everything we have.”
Smith set the stage for a wild fourth quarter, one that fit a game that was delayed for an hour and 47 minutes in the second quarter by thunderstorms in the area. At that point, the game was tied at 2, but La Salle came roaring out of the gates, Wickersham scoring twice to make it 4-2. Six seconds after the second, a man-up goal, Stevie Davis won a draw and hit a make-it-take-it score to make it 5-2.
Davis’s early dominance at the faceoff X and a hounding open-field defense allowed La Salle to monopolize possession. The Jaguars went without a shot attempt from Kris Henning’s tracer of a goal late in the first quarter to Smith’s marker a minute into the third quarter. It was 14 minutes of game action and about two hours of real time.
“It was tough not getting the ball at all,” Smith said. “Just watching our defense and not being able to help the ball. We knew once we got the ball, we were going to have to do something with it right away.”
Smith, who tallied a hat trick, turned the tide in the final seconds of the third quarter, Kai Lopez dodging and feeding him to cut the deficit to 8-4.
Drew Goldt made it 8-5 early in the fourth, after Jake Zarett caused a turnover and Zach Meyers headmanned in transition to a feed from behind the cage. Defensive middie Evan Wilkens deposited a Goldt pass midway through the fourth. Lopez then bombed home one with 4:18 to play while absorbing a push to make it 8-7.
La Salle finally got a ninth with 1:58 left, Drew Keaveney kicking away a shot for one of his 12 saves, but Lleyton Bracken there to pop home the rebound. Goldt got that goal back at 1:14, blistering home a Henning feed with the flag down.
Davis won the ensuing draw but turned it over, giving Garnet Valley the ball. The Jags took time to set up a play. But La Salle’s defense had the better of their matchups most of the night, with a talented group of juniors led by Andrew Van Stone, Matt Wills and Logan Missett. That provided a platform for Duffy, the senior leader of the group, to step up and step into a passing lane, throwing the caused turnover far and high into the hazy night.
“I don’t think of a team that I’ve been on where I’m as comfortable with my teammates ever,” Duffy said. “It means the world.”