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Benjamin Prevails Over Vero in OT Classic 12-11

Written by Lee Roggenburg on . Posted in .
A surprise performance by a struggling freshman. A scintillating game from a Vero midfielder who channeled his best Paul Rabil imitation. A face-off specialist at the top of his game that contributed scoring while also playing defense. An All-American defenseman making the biggest play in overtime with a key strip. And finally a senior attackman putting the finishing touch on this wonderful game with an individual effort and an off-speed shot that eluded the Vero defense; poignantly ending my choice for game of the year so far. In an overtime thriller Benjamin advanced to their first Elite Eight appearance as a varsity program by eliminating Vero Beach 12-11 with 1:53 left in the first overtime on a curl from behind the net by senior Robert Jacobs. The goal was set up by an All-American play by Jerry O’Connor as he immediately stripped the ball from Vero on Vero’s only OT possession. Vero had grabbed momentum off two late goals by Austen Zugelter, who played the game of his life, to tie the game at 11. Vero had also managed to kill an EMO late in regulation that carried over into the OT period and had gained possession near midfield after a Benjamin turnover when O’Connor and Jacobs stepped up. The game started out as if Benjamin wanted to end it early. Three goals in the first 3:36 put Benjamin up 3-0 before Vero even had an offensive possession. Benjamin’s Charlie Nicklaus dominated the face-off ‘X’ in the first half, winning 9 of 11 and also provided the life offensively, scoring two of the three. Jacobs opened the scoring at 11:12 unassisted off a dodge from behind the goal to the left of the cage before spinning back towards the crease and firing in the opening tally. Nicklaus followed up with two unassisted, at 10:26 and 9:24 to make it 3-0. The first was a well set up screen shot from the right side that the Vero goalie didn’t see until too late and the second on an EMO step down bullet from up top. SAPCandBenjVeroSw161968_opt Vero got back into the game, and into a rhythm, with Tyler Martin’s solo dodge from the left goal line extended (GLE) to bring it back to 3-1 at 5:47. Benjamin regained the 3 goal lead at 4:18 on freshman Andrew Packer’s first of 5 goals on a spin dodge on the right side, beating Vero goalie Aryeh Pollack on a high-to-high shot. Vero came back with Colton Pierce picking up a loose ball rebound of a Dylan Cannon shot to close the gap to 4-2 with 2:05 left. The period ended that way as Vero started to gain momentum. Benjamin outshot Vero 11-6 in the period but hurt themselves some with missing the net on good looks. Vero’s Pierce and Cannon teamed up again to open the second, with Cannon making a cross-crease feed to Pierce on the right side to make it 4-3 at the 9:23 mark. Benjamin’s Packer scored his second on a dodge from right GLE towards the front of the cage at 8:44 to make it 5-3. Late in the second quarter Zugelter scored on a cut towards the middle and firing home a screened shot past Buc’s goalie Anthony Cicio to cut the lead to one. Jacobs put Benjamin back up two with his second, from a Nicklaus crease feed to make it 6-4 at halftime. The game was played crisply as the two teams only turned iot over a combined 12 times in the half. After halftime the teams traded goals as Vero kept trying to tie the game up and Benjamin kept trying to lengthen the lead past two. Vero’s Cannon opened the third period off a Kevin Heckman feed to make it 6-5 56 seconds into the stanza off Heckman’s feed from behind to a crease-cutting Cannon. Jacobs scored his third from Luke Pingleton’s short pass at 9:18 to make the lead two again. Vero’s Cole O’Brien then scored unassisted 53 seconds later on a nice bounce shot off a left alley dodge. Benjamin’s #24 (not on my roster) put the lead back to two at 6:28 off Jacob’s pass out of a double team to make it 8-6. Cannon responded at 4:52 unassisted on a bounce shot from the left wing. Packer responded 23 seconds later, picking up a loose ball in front of the cage to make it 9-7. Zugelter then scored fortunately on an attempted crease feed that was deflected past Cicio by his defense to send the two teams to the fourth with Benjamin holding a tenuous 9-8 lead. Vero had scored on all four of its’ shots on goal in the third as their shooters made Cicio’s life difficult in the period. SAPCandBenjVeroSw161700_opt The fourth quarter started out with Zugelter scoring his third at 10:58 on a marvelously placed bounce shot off a left alley dodge to tie the game at 9. At this point Benjamin really had no answer for him as he was able to dodge at will, and was completely zoned in on his shooting accuracy. But Benjamin did have a response, in the form of Packer, who also played the game of his life after struggling for the second half of the season. At 7:16 Packer responded with a dodge from the back left corner, beating the defender to the front of the cage with a burst of speed to regain the lead for Benjamin. 47 seconds later he scored his fifth on the EMO from a Jacob’s feed, ripping a right wing laser past Pollack to stretch the lead to 11-9. The team’s traded possessions until Zugelter completely took over the game for Vero. While on EMO he ripped a left-handed bullet from straight away off a middle dodge with 2:03 left to make it a one-goal game again and then duplicated the move with 1:25 left to tie it and send the Vero section into ecstasy. The team’s traded possessions in the final minute and with a few seconds left Cicio was able to come up with a loose ball. Vero’s O’Brien, not hearing the whistle, continued on with the play and hit Cicio from behind, causing a Vero man-down. The referee, showing great judgment, called a technical push instead of an unnecessary roughness as he rightly judged that, while having to call something, he didn’t want to have Vero’s season end on that call, with the resultant one-minute penalty. Which set up the ending described above. What a game. In front of another enormous crowd, including many high school kids from the county’s area programs. A great advertisement for the sport locally. But another example of how disappointing it is for one team to end their season. Just like the SA-Boca game, Vero will hold the burden of this loss. Coach Moriarty told me after the game that losing like this is worse than getting beat badly. Hard to disagree with him . . . Thanks to Coach Cheatham and Coach Moriarty for talking to me after the game and thanks kids AND fans for the performance and atmosphere Friday. Definitely one for the books, and one that will be talked about for a long time to come. Team Statistics: Face-offs: Benjamin 16-8 (although Vero did win the fourth 3-2) Shots: Vero 32 – Benjamin 31 SOGs: Vero 19 – Benjamin 15 Turnovers: Benjamin 17 – Vero 12 Penalties: Vero 7 – Benjamin 3 I’ll break with tradition and note the individual statistics together since these kids deserve to be recognized on the same level. Zugelter, Packer and Jacobs scored 14 of the 23 goals in the game. Nicklaus, Cannon and Pierce scored 6 more. O’Brien and Martin added goals while Jacobs added 2 assists, as did Cannon. Heckman, Nicklaus and Pingleton added assists as well. Cicio finished with 8 saves and Pollack made 3. Benjamin goes on to face Barron Collier in the Elite Eight on Tuesday night, attempting to make their first trip to Orlando as a varsity program.