On a clear afternoon along the banks of the Delaware River with the temperature in the mid 80s, the Whipsnakes outlasted the Redwoods 12-11 in overtime to claim the inaugural PLL Championship. The ninth overtime game of PLL season was arguably its most exciting.
While the Whipsnakes trampled the ‘Woods 17-4 in their last meeting during Week 9 in Hamilton, Ontario, the club they faced in the Championship was riding a wave of momentum. After 50 days without a win, the Redwoods won three games in a row and entering this weekend looked like a different club than a month ago.
Matt Kavanagh, who was out Week 9 due to an ankle injury, opened the scoring after he used a pick from Jack Near then ran through a Matt Dunn check one minute and 25 seconds into the game.
The only other goal of the quarter that featured physical and stingy defense from both clubs came from the PLL MVP, points leader, and local product, Matt Rambo. Rambo backed down Matt Landis, rolled to his right hand and slipped a shot past the Rookie of the Year, Tim Troutner.
Rambo’s individual effort was the start of a 5-0 run for the Whipsnakes. They dominated possession in the first half thanks to Joe Nardella winning 6 of 8 faceoffs and a 14-10 advantage on ground balls.
The Whips D consistently suffocated the Redwoods’ league leading attack with perfectly timed slides and physical play. On the offensive end, Rambo (3,3) was integral as a feeder. He dished two assists to John Haus and Joe LoCasio.
The Redwoods didn’t go quietly into halftime. Wes Berg deflected a Brent Adams shot from behind midfield past Kyle Bernhlor with 0.03 seconds remaining on the clock.
The Whipsnakes went on another 4-0 run to start the second half, that included two goals from John Haus and two-point bomb from Mike Chanenchuk. The goal put the Whipsnakes up 9-2. It looked like we might have a repeat of Hamilton.
The Whipsnakes had the Redwoods right where they wanted them.
But as Meek Mill raps in Dreams and Nightmares, the anthem of the Eagles’ Super Bowl run two years ago, “Hold up wait a minute, y'all thought I was finished?”
Redwoods midfielder Jack Near ended the Whipsnakes’ run with his first PLL goal off an inside roll and diving shot. Perkovic capped the quarter with a two-point shot that pulled the ‘Woods to a three-point deficit.
“Let’s go Redwoods,” chants erupted from the pro ‘Woods crowd.
Ryder Garnsey (2,1) gave them what they wanted. He and the Redwoods refused to back down. After a prolonged loose ball scuffle, Garnsey collected a ground ball, one-handed, then found an unmarked Kavanagh on the crease. Garnsey sprinted towards the Redwoods fans on the left side of the stadium in similar fashion to his celebration at the end of the third quarter against the Chaos. The goal pulled the Redwoods within two. They were just getting started. Kavanagh dished to Garnsey who then rifled a shot from the left wing past Bernlohr to make 10-8.
A Wes Berg tip in tied the game at 10 with 5:29 to play, then Joe Walters pulled the ‘Woods ahead at the 1:36 mark. It was the first lead for the Redwoods since less than two minutes into the game.
But Philly is Rambo’s city. He tied the game with 21.2 seconds remaining.
After a Joe Nardella faceoff win in overtime, there was little doubt who would get the ball. Rambo swim dodged and forced his way topside past Matt Landis, then beat Troutner with a low and away shot.
It was a fitting finish for the league’s MVP.
Earlier this week, Rambo said he was more concerned about the team’s performance than his own accolades.
He now has the hardware he coveted the most.