After giving up 20 goals in a shocking loss to Chrome in Week 8, Whipsnakes came back with renewed focus and were locked in on clinching a playoff berth. For the Redwoods, the impact of Greg Gurenlian’s return to the faceoff X was muted by the unfortunate injuries of defensive leader Eddy Glazener and offensive stalwart Matt Kavanagh.
Coming off a 13-10 loss to Chaos in Week 8, Redwoods were still in control of their playoff destiny heading into Week 9. However, Redwoods would lose control of both their playoff destiny and their chance of winning this game early in Sunday’s match as Whipsnakes poured in eight unanswered goals to start the game.
The onslaught began as Michael Ehrhardt came up with the loose ball on the opening faceoff and passed the ball down to Connor Kelly, who started at attack for the second straight week. The rest of this play foreshadowed what would be a defensive nightmare for Head Coach Nat St. Laurent and his Redwoods’ defense. As Gurenlian subbed off with Ehrhardt, Joe Nardella was left wide open on the backside as both Pat Haberson and Brian Karalunas awaited Whipsnakes’ offensive midfielders out of the substitution box. When the ball swung to Nardella, Garrett Epple was forced to rotate, leaving Matt Rambo open on the doorstep. Matt Landis’s rotation was late and so began a long evening for everyone in a white jersey.
The first half was more of the same. Redwoods’ defenders were left with palms up and whirling heads as Whipsnakes offensive players, time and time again, were left open off ball. Simple cuts and exchanges created havoc and confusion for Redwoods defenders, who seemed lost without their defensive quarterback in Glazener.
Rambo, after his second of three goals in the first half, even acknowledged during one of his many in game interviews that the Whipsnakes just ran a simple 1-4-1 double mumbo where he and John Haus exchanged positions while Drew Snider dodged from up top. The communication exchange between Nick Ossello, who was guarding Haus, and Epple, who was on Rambo, was either too late or didn’t happen at all as Rambo was open from 10 yards on the left wing.
Defensively, Whipsnakes smothered Jules Heningburg and the rest of the Redwoods offense, holding them to just six shots on goal in the first half and 15 for the game.
Heningburg, who drew Whipsnakes defender Bryce Young, was denied the top side time and time again as Young cut off Heningburg’s angle to the goal, holding him to just one shot the entire half. Ryder Garnsey, Joe Walters, and Sergio Salcido shot a combined 1-of-8 in the first half and 1-of-12 for the game as the Whipsnakes’ team defense sent timely slides on dodges when they were needed.
The Redwoods offense, which averages over 43 shots per game and buries over 26 percent of those opportunities, was held to a 10.8 shooting percentage on their way to a record-low in goals.
The second half was more of a formality as Whipsnakes entered the third quarter up 12-1 and opened up the half adding two more. Redwoods would find rare success with their power play unit burying back-to-back goals midway through the third quarter. Whipsnakes would answer that two-goal run with another three-goal run of their own to make the score 17-3 going into the fourth quarter.
With the game out of reach, goal differential was the only thing left for these two to play for, as Redwoods had fallen behind Atlas’ league worst -13 goal differential. However, as hard as Redwoods tried to narrow the gap and climb back into fourth place, the stifling Whipsnakes defense would not allow it. Redwoods fourth and final goal of the contest would show what they are capable of as Heningburg drew the attention of the defense and found Toronto, Ontario native and Hill Academy product, Clarke Petterson on the back pipe for a dunk.
The lone bright spot for Redwoods was at the faceoff dot, where Gurenlian won over 52 percent of his faceoffs and dominated Nardella to the clamp all evening. After being an issue for weeks, St. Laurent will at least have one fewer thing to address moving into their pivotal Week 10 matchup with Chrome.
Heading into the tenth and final week, the playoff picture got a little clearer, as Whipsnakes have locked themselves into a Top 2 seed and will draw Chaos in the first round. Redwoods, on the other hand, have their backs against the wall, as they now hold the worst goal differential in the league. They are in a three-way tie with Archers and Atlas as the three teams fight for the two remaining playoff spots. Since none of the three teams play each other, goal differential is guaranteed to make an impact on who’s in and who’s out.