England dug deep for an heroic victory to secure the nation’s Blue Division status in a nerve-shredding clash with Israel.
It was win or bust for England as the storm clouds circled over their future and they dealt with the demons of five straight divisional losses at the World Championships in Denver.
A talented Israel side, stacked full of stand-out American college and pro players, took England to the brink of disaster before Nick Watson got the decisive goal in the first period of Over Time with a trademark burst from X and a cleverly placed shot.
But a breathless and chaotic second period saw both teams spill possession and Ben McAllister pulled off a crucial save before Watson and Aaron Prosser managed to run down the clock for the crucial win.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the guys,” said Head Coach Matt Bagley. “To survive and win that game after what has happened this week shows how much spirit this team has. They played their hearts out and had to earn it the hard way because that was a very good and talented Israeli team.
“The players said in the team meeting that the game was not just about them; it was about the next England team and future teams. We had to win it for them as well as us. Being in the Blue Division is tradition and they were so committed to preserving it.”
England now play Scotland for 5th place on Saturday while Japan lose their elite position.
England started like a train as the sun blazed down on the pitch at Dicks Sporting Goods Park, on the outskirts of Denver.
Tom Gallon won the first face off and Jak Warwrzyniak moved it to Watson, who finished crisply in the top corner. Sam Russell then fed Glenn Humphreys who pounced with a shot on the turn.
Israel was left reeling when Matt Sexton fired a feed from X to the advancing Colin Clive for 3-0 inside seven minutes.
England were looking slick, moving forward and the defence switched and covered intelligently to neutralise Israel’s dangerous attack force. The Three Lions kept roaring as Watson grabbed his 2nd and Humphreys fed Jack Brook for a 5-0 lead on 15 minutes.
But Israel have been impressing crowds all week with their rapier like transition and a front three that can corkscrew through intense cover to unpick defences. Ari Sussman, the Boston Cannons pro, showed a glimpse of what was coming by making it 5-2 at the end of the first quarter.
Israel settled and gathered pace during the second quarter as England struggled to push on from their runaway start.
Sussman again got on the scoresheet as the balance of power swung and McAllister – who had 23 saves in the game – had business to do. Neither team could find the net again so it finished 5-1 at half time.
The break appeared to favour England and Watson was able to dart from behind the cage for a trademark goal and a 6-2 advantage but it only served to ignite a comeback as England squandered possessions.
Matt Cherry got them going downhill, rounding the pipe to score low from an acute angle. It was 6-4 when LSM Ben Smith powered a shot in when the defensive screen slipped up top. Former Drexel University star Kyle Bergman finished off a confident passing move with a low to high shot and Israel made it four unanswered goals with a Richard Cheifitz strike
This time it was England’s turn to be punch drunk. Just when England needed to stop the flood, Kyle Standiford – excellent throughout the tournament – launched a clear, braving a barrage of checks to find space and close in on goal before unleashing a bomb of a shot to keep England in front 7-6.
But the quarter closed 7-7 when Sussman struck again and the early fire of England fans was doused by Israel’s clear talent and danger. The team had thumped Germany 15-1 and only lost 8-9 to Australia, who made the semi final before falling to the US in the semi final, so was full of belief that they could humble England.
Keeper Henry Altschuler grew in stature during the game and repelled efforts by Watson and Sexton with lightning reflex saves to add to mounting frustration.
Neither team could get a hold of the final quarter but a run and gun strike from Prosser nosed England in front. Further saves followed before Prosser found the net again with an armour piercing shot with just eight minutes left.
Israel hit straight back and England needed a trio of McAllister saves and an astute Andrew Baxter to clamp down on a rebound to keep the ball out. The tension was beyond fever pitch and it was 9-8 after an England possession broke down with 1 minute 26 seconds to go and Bergman scored. A Time-Out should have settled the nerves but the ball was turned over with 52 seconds left and Israel capitalised to level again.
Israel got possession and Sussman had the ball and drove to goal after letting the clock burn in the hope of delivering a fatal blow but Baxter again snuffed out the danger and force O/T.
England jumped into action, with Alix Davidson forcing a turnover but a Russell shot was well saved and the game raged up and down the field in afternoon temperatures in the 80s. With just 42 seconds left of the first 4-minute period, Watson turned on the afterburners to find his favourite slot to fire a shot past the despairing keeper.
Chris Brady, who along with Face Off partner Gallon provided good ball all afternoon, won the 2nd period opening battle to give England a platform to see the game out. Israel had other ideas and managed get two decent opportunities as the drama got to the both sets of players.
Israel had possession as the clock ticked down but a moving pick at 50 seconds gave it away and England brought on Nick Anderton in goal to counter the 10-man ride. Prosser had feet of fire as he beat intense pressure to make it across half way line and an opportunity for a time-out to settle the last 40 seconds.
The drama continued as the ball was lost and then reclaimed for Prosser and Watson to elude the desperate pursuit and settle a crucial win for English lacrosse.
“We like to make things interesting,” joked a relieved Bagley after the final whistle. “The players deserve huge credit for that win. Results have been disappointing and they could have just let it go after losing the group games but they performed with great emotional intensity out there and their attitude is something to be proud of.”
England’s opponents in the 5th/6th play-off game are Scotland who sprung a shock double O/T triumph over Japan. The Auld Enemy has been setting the tournament alight with the free-scoring McBride brothers and Kyle Buchanan, of the Philadelphia Wings.
Scorers: Nick Watson 4, Adam Prosser 2, Jack Brook, Colin Clive, Glenn Humphreys, Kyle Standiford.