UHS lacrosse completes comeback, advances to state championship over Morgantown in overtime

MORGANTOWN — The latest edition of the boys’ lacrosse Mohawk Bowl between cross-town rivals Morgantown and University happened to come in the state semifinals on Tuesday night on Baker’s Ridge.

After a one-goal game that ended the regular season in which the Hawks earned a 6-5 victory, Tuesday night’s contest outdid the previous with a 9-8 overtime thriller that saw UHS punch its ticket to the D1 boys’ state title game on Saturday night.

UHS senior attacker Conor Montgomery scored four goals, including three in the second half and the overtime winner, to will his team to a comeback victory after trailing 7-3 early in the third quarter.

“We’ve been talking all week about our motivation and making sure we stayed locked in coming into tonight,” UHS head coach Brian Houk said. “We dug deep and got it done. It was on our seniors’ backs tonight. At halftime, we told them to embrace the adversity and not sweat the deficit. We knew we could return from a three-goal deficit at halftime and accepted the challenge tonight.”

The game’s opening moments saw each team feeling the other out with patient offense. MHS nearly opened the scoring with a shot that hit the left post and the Hawks almost broke the ice with a shot that just flew over the net.

The Mohigans found the opening goal from senior Nate Kupec at the 6:42 mark of the first quarter after forcing a UHS turnover. 

Nearly two minutes later, senior Colin Carey equalized for the Hawks which saw the game tied at one goal each after the first 12 minutes. MHS goalie Dylan Shinkovich made a strong save to keep the score tied just before the end of the quarter.

UHS added its second less than a minute into the second quarter as Courtland Helbig received a pass in front of the goal and buried the shot to take a 2-1 lead for the hosts.

However, the next four goals would come for the Mohigans over the next 9:02 as Luke Quigley tied the game with 9:24 left in the first half. He was followed two minutes later by Anthony Vessecchia who scooped up a loose ball and slotted it home to give MHS a 3-2 lead.

After a few minutes ticked by, MHS junior Aydan Shepard scored twice more in 49 seconds with two impressive efforts to extend the lead 5-2.

Morgantown’s Nate Kupec (5) and Morgantown’s Anthony Vessecchia (26) celebrates after Vessecchia’s goal against University on Tuesday. (William Wotring/The Dominion Post)

It wasn’t until 22.8 seconds left in the second quarter that UHS provided an answer with Montgomery getting his first goal of the night. But after a quick faceoff that saw MHS win possession, the Mohigans scored another goal with 10 seconds until halftime and took a 6-3 lead at the break.

They picked up right where they left off to begin the third quarter as well, as Joseph Mathews extended the MHS lead to 7-3 with 9:25 left in the third.

Noah Dowler responded with a goal for the Hawks less than a minute later and the defense responded, not allowing a goal for the rest of the third quarter. Carey added his second goal to cut the MHS lead to 7-5 entering the fourth.

“That last 12 minutes, I kept telling myself this is for my lacrosse life,” Montgomery said. “It was all about effort coming down the stretch and we refused to lose this game.”

Four minutes of the final quarter passed before the Hawks cut the deficit to just one goal 7-6, through senior Aidan Murray, who scored after a pass was intercepted at midfield and UHS played an advantage on a fastbreak. 

Another four minutes ticked by and at the 4:02 mark, Montgomery would tie the game at seven on a power play after an MHS penalty. He added his third 90 seconds later giving the Hawks an 8-7 lead with 2:27 left to play.

Once again, MHS responded quickly as Mathews found the ball after the faceoff and buried it into the net, tying the game at eight and sending us to overtime where the first goal to be scored would win the game.

Nearly all of the four-minute overtime period had passed before the Hawks found themselves with possession. Montgomery slowly worked his way from behind the goal to the right post, before cutting inside to the middle and rifling his fourth goal of the night into the back of the net, and sending UHS to the state championship game.

“I didn’t have the best game against MHS last time, and I knew if we came out and wanted it more tonight we would be successful,” Montgomery said. “I liked the matchup on the last play and told myself in my head that I would do whatever it took to beat him, and it worked out.”

UHS outscored MHS 6-2 in the second half and overtime to secure the semifinal victory.

“We played hard today, but at the end of it we had a few costly turnovers and mistakes that changed the game at the worst time for us,” MHS head coach Jeremy Bennett said. “We did a better job of riding them and fighting for groundballs. I’m just super proud of these guys for the way they came out this year after losing such a great senior class and showing what they can do.”

The Hawks will play on Saturday against George Washington, the only team to beat UHS this season with a one-goal victory on April 18.

“We firmly believe that you have to learn how to fail before you can learn to win,” Houk said. “We’ve had our failures the past four years but the way these guys have bought in and worked so hard for this moment, to see it bear that fruit is the most incredible feeling. We will be ready to leave everything on this field on Saturday.”

UHS and GW are set for a faceoff at 7 p.m. from Mylan Pharmaceutical Stadium at University High School on Saturday for the WVSLA boys’ lacrosse D1 state championship.