The Perfect Quarter: How the Whips won the 2020 PLL Championship
By Austin Owens | Sep 16, 2021
“Lacrosse is a game of runs.”
We hear it nearly on a weekly basis. No team is ever out of it when it comes to the Premier Lacrosse League, and the 2020 PLL Championship was a perfect example of the analogy.
The top-seeded Whipsnakes were looking to defend their 2019 Championship against the Chaos, who went on a huge playoff run after finishing group play without registering a victory.
The game started out how many expected, with the Whips hopping out to an early 2-0 lead. But it was all Chaos from that point on in the first half. They scored the final four goals of the half to take a lead into the third. They also won the third frame, outscoring the Whips 2-1. They needed to hold the fort for one final stanza to take home their first championship.
But then, the Whips had what should stand as the most impressive quarter of play in the short history of the PLL to date. It was their all-around dominance in the final 12 minutes that saw them to back-to-back titles.
Let’s look back at how that quarter unfolded:
John Haus got everything started for the Whips in the fourth quarter. The midfielder was inverted and worked on Pat Resch from X. After rolling topside, he was able to work his way into a rollback and find a hole on Blaze Riorden from a sharp angle.
Then, the defending champs turned the game on its head. Joe Nardella pinch and popped the ensuing draw and flipped it to Zed Williams for a wide-open stepdown in transition. In just a five-second span, the Chaos lead went from three to one, and the defending champions weren’t even close to being done.
Williams added his third of the game off a great individual effort before Jay Carlson gave the Whipsnakes the lead -- making it four goals in under a minute.
On Carlson’s goal, it was obvious that the Chaos defense was looking to come up with a home run play to turn their fortunes around, they had spent the entire quarter in their own end, leaving them without a breather to collect themselves. They were caught running around as the Whips swung the ball from up top to X, and while Jack Rowlett was sliding to Matt Rambo, Matt Rees and Mark Glicini were caught in no-man's land, leaving one of the best off-ball cutters in the league with an open look in close.
Zeddy Ballgame cemented his nickname in this contest, as he put the game on ice. Following another Nardella win from the stripe. Williams got the ball from Ty Warner, and was able to get some separation as Rowlett went underneath a Carlson pick. That freed up Zed’s hands and he nailed a high stick-side shot on Riorden. That was his fourth of the game and cemented the fourth-quarter hat trick.
His ridiculous quarter was capped off with his fourth goal in a two-minute span. Williams buried with Rowlett on his hands, blowing another past Riorden from just inside the 2-point arc.
With their limited possessions in the fourth, Chaos wasn’t able to direct much Kyle Bernlohr’s way. Several looks ended in turnovers, and they also had some trouble in the clearing game, showing the clear shift in momentum.
During a TV timeout, Matt Rambo told his teammates that they “Needed to get to 11” to be comfortable in the Championship, and he proceeded to score the team’s 10th goal a few possessions later.
Zed added his fifth with just over 2:30 to play and Joe LoCasio put the final nail in the coffin with a tally on an empty net to seal the championship.
What went right for the Whips?
Obviously, I could say that getting a five-goal quarter from Zed Williams was what pushed the team over the top, and while he was a big piece of this puzzle, the 2020 MVP was by no means the only reason the Whips hoisted their second trophy.
The Whipsnakes owned the stripe in the fourth quarter, fueled by Joe Nardella and his wings: Warner and Michael Ehrhardt. Nardella was able to win the clamp and gain possession on the first two faceoffs of the frame. Tommy Kelly did take the third draw, but a timely double-team from Ehrhardt turned the brief control by the Chaos draw man into a turnover.
Kelly did have a few wins in the fourth, but they were few and far between, tilting the field in the Whips’ favor -- one of Kelly’s wins came off a violation by Nardella.
Without his play on draws, the outcome could have been very different in this contest.
The defense and Kyle Bernlohr were also terrific at causing mayhem and forcing the Chaos offense into turnovers, mistakes, and looks from the outside. The standout sequence came from Tim Muller, who blew up a man-up opportunity with pressure on Josh Byrne. Muller was able to force the ball loose, knock Byrne’s stick to the ground, and start the runout with Ehrhardt.
The unit as a whole had a quiet quarter, and that’s exactly what you want on the back end.
What went right for the Whips? More like what went wrong? It was the perfect quarter and they deserved their second title after the masterclass they displayed to finish the Championship Series.
What Can Chaos do Differently?
Andy Towers made faceoff play the priority this off-season -- along with adding some additional Canadian and Iroquois talent. With his first-round pick in the 2021 Entry Draft, he was able to land Max Adler, which promised to help the team out from the stripe in 2021, and prevent runs like the Whipsnakes' 9-0 fourth quarter.
It hasn’t quite been as dominant of a regular season as Adler would have liked, but he’s turned it on down the stretch, giving his offense some added possessions in the process.
After going head-to-head with Bones Kelly and Trevor Baptiste in the team’s two playoff matchups, he needs to keep it close against Nardella to give Chaos a chance in this game. If Nardella dominates like he did last year, we’ll likely see a similar result on the scoreboard. But this game becomes extremely interesting if Adler can split draws.
We do like to joke around about Chaos being “Team Canada.” To live up to that moniker in the Championship, they’ll likely look to push the tempo and catch the Whips unsettled to get some quick-strike opportunities in transition.
They have one of the best transition threats in the league in Ian MacKay, who has been a killer from beyond the 2-point arc this summer. Chaos also has the likes of Jarrod Neumann, Troy Reh, and CJ Costabile, who can both push the ball and bomb it from two. The team may be a few years removed from the Bomb Squad days, but these four could turn a game on its head with their long-range abilities.
Those are the two main factors. The Chaos offense needs to make the most of the opportunities they get, as the Whips are going to score more often than not with their full complement of weapons. Chaos needs to combat this by limiting runs and going on a few of their own to keep momentum on their side. Climbing uphill to try and catch the Whips is generally a losing endeavor.
We’ll have to see if Chaos can flip the script from a year ago. They have the pieces to do it and have been on a roll similar to last year. They’re the only thing standing between the Whips completing a masterful three-peat and would serve as the first team other than the Whips to hoist the PLL Championship. They believe they can get it done. It’ll just come down to execution on the field on Sunday.