Cannons clinch 7th playoff spot in 13-10 win over Chrome in last game for Galloway, White

By Andrew Crane | Aug 15, 2021

When the Cannons’ 2021 season is finished, a season that started as the league’s second expansion team and included a handful of one-goal losses that pushed it to the brink, a defining image of its now-undefined ending will feature Paul Rabil snapping his right hand up, pointing a finger toward the sky and signaling that his two-point attempt — from the top of the arc, with the Cannons’ power play winding down in the fourth quarter — had found the back of the net.

He’d tried to get a similar shot off seven seconds earlier, but Stephen Rehfuss’ pass missed the target and forced Rabil to catch it with outstretched arms, away from the shooting position. Instead, he settled for a shot off a skip pass. Shayne Jackson had floated near the right side of the cage with the ball and noticed a window between two Chrome defenders. He hit his target, the pocket of Rabil’s stick, and watched as it sailed past John Galloway, halting a 3-0 run that closed the third quarter and stretching the game further and further out of reach while giving the Cannons a 12-8 lead.

It ended up serving as the game-winning goal, with Jamie Trimboli adding a tally soon after, and the Cannons booked their ticket to the playoffs as the No. 7 — and final — seed with a 13-10 win over Chrome on Saturday night. At the forefront was Rabil and his six points, the offseason piece acquired to shape a PLL franchise with no past and an ungelled mixture of players tasked with shaping its present. He’d paired with veterans like Lyle Thompson and newcomers like Stephen Rehfuss to create one of the league’s most efficient offenses, and the trio combined for seven goals and 12 points as the Cannons overcame a 38% clip at the faceoff stripe en route to their third win, and their biggest yet.

“Really just starting at training camp, building this team as an expansion team, we felt something special,” Cannons head coach Sean Quirk said. “We had a lot of battles throughout this regular season … but we became battle-tested.”

And now they tread on for at least another week. The season-long faceoff problems still exists. So does a defense that craters for brief spurts and surrenders runs during those spans. But all the steps, and calculated risks, Quirk took paid off against the Chrome, and it allowed them to sneak into the playoffs.

Perhaps the biggest preseason step came after Quirk took over the Cannons and approached Atlas head coach Ben Rubeor about trading for Rabil, while also talking to the midfielder and pitching the opportunity he envisioned. Rabil was on the “backend” of his career, Quirk recalled ahead of the first weekend, but could come and inherit a different role than he was used to — and Rabil was on board. “I think he's playing some of his best lacrosse right now that he has in two or three years,” Quirk said on June 3, and two months later he’s leading PLL midfielders in goals.

His first against the Chrome came when Rehfuss received the ball at X, dodged and hit a cutting Rabil. His second, still in the second quarter, came minutes later when John Moderski shadowed him with a pole on the right wing yet Rabil curled all the way around to the left alley and scored. Moderski tried to smack the ball out on his left-shoulder side as he cut, but the Chrome didn’t slide, or double, Rabil even after Trimboli hovered in the lane as a potential screen.

The deficit-erasing that the Cannons did in the second quarter, as opposed late in the fourth like some of their losses, gave them time to eventually make it disappear altogether. Chrome had jumped out to an early 4-2 lead at the end of the first quarter, and opened the scoring when Dylan Molloy dodged and drew three Cannons defenders — leaving Jordan MacIntosh on the crease. Two Molloy step-down tallies and a behind-the-back goal by Colin Heacock followed before the end of the first frame.

But Rehfuss continued emergence and level of comfort within the Cannons’ offense helped facilitate opportunities early, and he scored their first goal when he skipped around the cage, then skipped some more into the alley, and rifled a shot past Galloway, playing his last game alongside teammate Joel White,  when no slide came. Later in the second quarter, Rehfuss threaded a tight angle through Galloway’s left armpit and continued what ultimately ended as a 4-0 run for the Cannons.

They gained their largest lead of the night at the time just before halftime, when Thompson made a broken pick-and-roll play look like it worked to perfection. He maneuvered around Tim Edwards, the screen-setter who the Chrome shoved down, cut back across the middle, lowered his stick and lasered a shot into the cage.

Then Chrome’s comeback started, first gradually before picking up speed — and frequency. MacIntosh weaved through a trio of defenders and scored seconds before halftime, and they overcame back-to-back shot-clock violations to open the second half with Colin Heacock’s left-handed shot into the top left corner on the power play. Thompson had been called for offsides, and this time Chrome converted. 

“It was kind of an assertive effort, especially in the second half, to make sure (Heacock) was on the field a lot more,” Chrome head coach Tim Soudan said. “He is a matchup nightmare.”

Just when the game started to get out of reach in the fourth quarter, Heacock added his fourth of the game, and Chrome’s second goal in 31 seconds, to make it a three-goal game. He dodged on Edwards, rolled back to his right when he fell and sniped a shot past Nick Marrocco. Chrome won the next faceoff too, but their offense stalled from there, with possessions breaking down — sometimes in the defensive end — as the clock ticked away.

That allowed the Cannons, for the first time that night, to relax a bit. Marrocco scooped a ground ball up one final time next to the cage, flipped it to his hand and began high-fiving teammates. Quirk and his assistants, Sean Kirwan and John Klepacki, embraced in a group hug. Relief, a feeling opposite the one they felt at many other points this season, started to set in.

“There's so many reasons why we shouldn't be in the playoffs or we should've been really down on ourselves at the end of these games,” Rabil said.

There were the four one-goal losses. The dozens of lost faceoffs. The handful of comebacks scraped together, some successful and others not. Those are all pivotal points in the Cannons’ book of their 2021 season, all compiling together and ultimately shaping the final stamp on their season. And with their win on Saturday, they opened another chapter.

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