APEX — With 13 minutes left in a 9-3 lacrosse tilt Friday night, many fans were probably wondering if they would get their money’s worth in a clash between two of the area’s top teams in Apex and Athens Drive.
For the drama that ensued, the ticket gate at Apex High School could have charged double.
Athens Drive stormed back from the large deficit to tie the game before eventually falling 12-11 in a wild Southwest Wake Athletic Conference game.
The Jaguars’ fourth-quarter rally count was six unanswered goals in 6:43. This came on the heels of a third-quarter scoring outburst by Apex, which led 4-3 early in the third quarter but scored five straight times in 5:38 to blow open the 9-3 lead.
“I told those guys that lacrosse is the biggest game of runs,” Athens Drive coach Jeff Salvado said. “Apex went on that huge run in the third quarter to grab the lead and I told these guys, ‘We have the opportunity to get the lead back. Now it’s our run. Their run’s over, now it’s our run.’ And they bought into it.”
The Athens Drive comeback began with a Matt Balog tally with 52 seconds left in the third quarter that made it a 9-4 game heading into the final period. With the help of Peyton Smith owning the faceoff circle, Athens Drive then came out of the break by ripping off five more unanswered goals to force a 9-9 tie with 6:09 remaining.
“It’s not a surprise,” Apex coach John Hayden said of the Jaguars’ rally. “They started converting and they were winning the faceoffs. We opened the door a crack for them and that’s all kids like that need.”
“They’re a good team and we knew they’d have a spurt of goals at some point,” said Apex’s Colby Lalicker, who scored a game-high four goals. “We just had to persevere and keep the effort up and play to the end.”
Apex regrouped and regained the lead with a Brendan Farrell goal, but the lead lasted just over a minute until the Jaguars’ Justin Moody tied things again at 10 apiece with 4:39 left.
Just 23 seconds later, the Cougars’ Mike Daum scored the second of his two goals and Dayton McGough added an insurance goal 37 seconds after that to push Apex to a 12-10 lead.
The dizziness didn’t end there though.
Balog appeared to pull Athens Drive within one with 1:54 left, but the goal was waived off because Apex had called a timeout. No matter, as Bobby Padden found the back of the cage for the Jaguars immediately after the timeout to make it a 12-11 game with 1:38 remaining.
Apex regained possession with just over a minute left and was able to run out the clock on its Senior Night. Apex, the defending state champion, finishes the regular season 15-2 and will take at least a share of the conference crown.
Athens Drive (12-3) wraps up the regular season Monday against Middle Creek. Apex will win the conference outright with an Athens Drive win but will share the title with Middle Creek should Middle Creek win.
The state playoffs begin Wednesday.
“This is a new team, a new chapter,” Lalicker said. “We’ve got to build our story.”