LANCASTER, Pa. – They just keep finding a way.
The Ursinus College men's lacrosse team's incredible season will see another chapter after the Bears came back from several multi-goal deficits to knock off top-seeded Franklin & Marshall, 12-11, and punch their ticket to the Centennial Conference championship game. Junior Ben Minardi's goal with 21 seconds remaining put the finishing touches on another thrilling victory over the Diplomats and sent Ursinus into a Saturday showdown with No. 2 Gettysburg with a conference title on the line. Faceoff is set for 1 p.m. at the Battlefield.
Much like the regular-season meeting, a 16-15 overtime barn-burner, Ursinus (12-3) dug itself a big early hole before fighting all the way back and dealing the Diplomats a devastating late blow.
The Bears trailed 6-2 midway through the second quarter but continued to chip away and eventually took their first lead with 14:20 to play. A blocked shot on an F&M extra-man chance led to a breakout in transition, and junior Bobby McClure found a cutting Hakan Atillasoy for a top-shelf shot and a 9-8 edge.
Atillasoy's go-ahead marker came after a quick-strike sequence late in the third quarter to tie it. The sophomore scored unassisted on the man-advantage with 3:42 to play, and Casey won the ensuing faceoff before dishing ahead to McClure for a snap shot that made it 8-8 just seven seconds later.
The Diplomats, whose only conference setback came at the hands of the Bears, came firing back with three consecutive goals in a span of less than three minutes to wrest control back with an 11-9 upper hand.
The Bears took advantage of a late mistake by the hosts, who still had a two-goal lead and possession with under five minutes remaining before a defenseman threw the ball away. The loose ball was scooped up by Atillasoy, who quickly passed over to junior Sam Mutz for a bullet shot into the top part of the net with 4:29 remaining.
F&M had a golden opportunity to restore a two-goal lead, but senior goalie Nick Kirk stoned Blake Target right on the doorstep with four minutes remaining. The teams traded empty possessions before another Diplomats turnover gave the Bears an opening. Atillasoy took it, working through a double team to fire a low shot past F&M goalie Luke Mutterer with eight on the shot clock and 58 seconds on the game clock.
Senior Brian Casey, who dominated the faceoff X all night, won the ensuing draw to set up a final possession. With the Diplomats keying on Ursinus stars Atillasoy and McClure, Minari found space to operate and slung another low shot into the back of the cage with 21 ticks remaining.
Casey eliminated any last hope for the Diplomats by winning his 21st faceoff in 25 attempts, allowing the Bears to run out the clock and book their first trip to the conference championship since back-to-back appearances in 2015 and 2016.
Atillasoy and McClure carried the load offensively, each supplying four goals and two assists to keep Ursinus within striking distance. Now with 110 career goals, McClure moved into a tie with Dane Mangin for second place in program history. Minardi had two goals, and Mutz added a goal and an assist.
Casey was sensational, winning 84 percent at X and racking up 12 ground balls in addition to an assist. Kirk made nine of his 17 saves in the second half, several of them on point-blank opportunities for the foes.
Kevin Mollihan had five goals and A.J. Rigsby added four for F&M, which held a 46-35 advantage in shots and won the turnover battle by 11 (24-13) but was undone by Casey's brilliance in the circle.
The latest nail-biting win for the Bears, their third one-goal victory of the season, sets up a date with a familiar nemesis. Ursinus has never defeated Gettysburg, which took down the Bears in both the 2015 and 2016 CC championships. Now, the Bears get a golden opportunity to change that inauspicious history – and what more could they ask for?