By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
“Win or go home” was the theme on a late afternoon in Salt Lake City, Utah.
As the shadows lengthened, so did the chances for Grand Canyon University Men’s Lacrosse to play one more game.
And soon after the sun set on a full day of playoff lacrosse, so did the season for the Lopes. No. 7 Brigham Young University took the lead late in the first half in their first-round matchup with GCU, and never relinquished it, holding off and ultimately eliminating the 10th-seeded Lopes, 14-11, at the Men’s Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) National Championships in Salt Lake City.
The loss ends the hopes for a second straight national title. BYU moves on to the quarterfinals to play the University of Utah.
“Opportunity lost,” Lopes’ Head Coach Manny Rapkin said. “We couldn’t execute the game plan.”
GCU found themselves in a back-and-forth, defensive contest through the first two quarters. The Cougars and Lopes alternated scoring in the opening half, with BYU opening the scoring and GCU answering soon after each BYU goal. The Lopes never led, and tied the game four different times, but BYU was able to find their footing late in the second quarter to take the lead for good. With the score tied at 4-4, BYU’s Winston Farley scored in transition off an intercepted pass by Connor Williams with just over a minute to play in the half. Then, with 10 seconds remaining, Connor Bernal from behind the net found Chris Severson on the left side of the box to give the Cougars a 6-4 advantage at the half.
A large reason why the Lopes weren’t able to get over the hump in the first half was the turnover battle and the time they had to defend. GCU turned the ball over eight times in the first half. BYU led with 23 minutes of possession in the first half to GCU’s seven.
“That was it,” Rapkin said. “That’s where we lost the game. You just can’t play the whole game on defense. It’s the story of our whole year.”
BYU didn’t let up to begin the second half. Farley scored 34 seconds into the third quarter as he found open space in the middle of the box inside the GCU defense to push the lead to 7-4. Four minutes later, Severson added another when he reached high and stole a clearing attempt by GCU goalie Brad Hookom from behind the net. Hookom made a strong save to end a BYU possession, but as he looked to pass upfield, Severson jumped high to pick off the pass. He immediately rushed to the front of the net and bounced in the goal to make it 8-4.
The Lopes got themselves back into the game, scoring three of the next four goals to give the bench much-needed life. Cooper Snowbarger got the run started at 8:36 when he powered his way around his defender into the middle of the box and swung in the goal from his right hip. Chase Paulson quickly answered for BYU 13 seconds later, but GCU’s Weston Gotuzzo and Jordan Vicente both scored a minute apart – both in transition – with four minutes to play in the quarter to put the Lopes to within two, 9-7.
However, that would be as close as GCU would get the rest of the way. Bernal scored with a minute and a half left in the third, then the Cougars regained a four-goal lead when Severson tallied his fourth of the game three minutes into the fourth. Wengreniuk notched his hat-trick goal with under nine minutes to play, but the Cougars’ Tanner Johnson and Zach Labrum each netted their respective second goals of the game two minutes apart halfway into the fourth to provide BYU with their largest lead at 13-8.
“You get tired, and when you’re down, you try and make some plays,” Rapkin said. “We tried to make some plays in the second half and get out of the defense. But it just comes back to time of possession and turnovers in postseason games. If you don’t control the tempo, it’s going to be really difficult to win.”
Wengreniuk scored his fourth and fifth goals – a season high – one minute apart with under three to play to push GCU to within three at 13-10, but it would not be enough as the Cougars were soon able to run out the clock. Wengreniuk scored the first two of the game for the Lopes, then Cody Clark and Snowbarger added their game-tying goals halfway into the second quarter.
GCU closes out the season with a 9-4 overall record.