Third quarter surge lifts Waterdogs past Atlas

By Austin Owens | Sep 5, 2022

In a game that Ryan Boyle described as “A blowout and a close game at the same time,” a massive third-quarter run propelled the Waterdogs to a 19-14 victory over Atlas in the Quarterfinals at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night. 

The team was led by big games from Michael Sowers (3G, 2A), Ryan Conrad (3G, 1T, 1A), and Ethan Walker (3G, 1A). Zach Currier had an outstanding two-way game as well for his squad, finishing with two goals and two assists along with eight ground balls and a caused turnover. 

Jake Withers went 52 percent on draws while Dillon Ward finished with 13 saves to help the Waterdogs advance.

“I’m really proud of our guys. They worked really hard over the last couple of weeks and I think that they kind of got what they earned today,” Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan said following the win. “It wasn’t perfect. Winning a lacrosse game is difficult in this league, and winning a playoff game is even more difficult to do.

“This is the first win in the history of the Waterdogs Lacrosse Club. So that in itself was pretty good.”

The teams traded goals to open the game before the Waterdogs rallied off a three-goal run. Ryland Rees and Currier had back-to-back goals in what would be the start of a great day at the office for the team’s rope unit as a whole. Kieran McArdle capped it off with his first of the evening on an assist from Walker. 

But one shot pulled Atlas within striking distance, as Romar Dennis powered a 2-pointer past Dillon Ward to make it 4-3 for the Waterdogs after 12 minutes. 

The middle quarters were where the ‘Dogs asserted their dominance and took a stranglehold. Walker, Rees, and Sowers widened the gap to four in short order. Chris Gray ended that run with Atlas’ lone marker of the second. But a Conrad 2-bomb would prove to be massive for the Waterdogs heading into the break. 

In the second half, Waterdogs face-off specialist Jake Withers went to work against Jim Brown Most Valuable Player finalist Trevor Baptiste, finishing the game 

“Withers is a unique face-off specialist. He’s extremely athletic and obviously, they have great wings,” Atlas head coach Ben Rubeor said post-game of the battle from the stripe. “From my perspective, it looked like Jake was going immediately to counters and trying to make it a 50-50 ball. The (strategy) was just to not let Trevor get a quick exit. They turned it into a scrum and they did very well. 

“Ryland Rees and Zach Currier did an awesome job, and when you combine them with a guy like Jake Withers who’s athletic, they got a lot of ground balls. I don’t think we can just rely on Trevor winning the clamp and getting the ball to himself each time. So hats off to the Waterdogs. They did a great job off the ground.”

Withers managed to hold Baptiste to just 50 percent on draws in the game. During the regular season, he never won fewer than 64 percent of face-offs in a single game. 

That relentlessness on the ground balls helped the Dogs get those crucial possessions when going on their runs throughout the game. And coming out of the locker room, the Waterdogs applied the pressure and build on their 9-4 advantage. They had a 6-2 run in the final nine minutes of the third quarter and outscored Atlas 8-3 in the frame. 

Matt Whitcher was the unlikely party starter in the third stanza, finishing off a chance in transition to put the Dogs up six. He was followed by Sowers, Conrad, and Walker. Sowers added another later in the quarter, with both Atlas markers bookending that goal. Danny Logan and Bryan Costabile tried to get their team back in the game, but a power play marker from Conrad and a 2-pointer from Mikie Schlosser halted any momentum the Bulls had generated. 

Gray got his second to end the quarter, but the Waterdogs held a 17-7 advantage with 12 minutes left to play. 

The teams traded goals, with the Waterdogs adding a pair from Walker and Currier. A Jeff Teat tally split those goals, leaving the Waterdogs up 19-8 in the closing stages. But Atlas made a last-ditch effort to try and make a comeback. They finished the game on a 6-0 run, with Teat posting five points to try and help his team back into it. The second-year man also stung a 2-pointer to make it 19-14, but with the clock working against them, time ran out on the Bulls’ season. 

The Waterdogs advance to the semi-finals in Washington, DC, where they will get a chance at redemption in the postseason against the Whipsnakes. The two teams will kick things off from Audi Field on Sept 11 at 1:00 p.m. ET. 

“I think we’ll be feeling good coming off a win. Speaking to the versatility (of the Whips), they have a lot of good defenseman and defensive middies, but we have some great dodgers and guys that have vision and really make defenses work,” McArdle said of next weekend’s matchup. “We have to just stay disciplined, watch the film from our last game, see what worked and what didn’t work and just continue to build.”