Chaos and Whipsnakes Prevail To Set Up 2020 PLL Championship Game Rematch

PHOTO BY KEVIN P. TUCKER


CHESTER, Pa. — Situated in the shadow of the Commodore Barry Bridge, Subaru Park served as a fitting location for the Chaos’ performance in the Premier Lacrosse League semifinals on Sunday.

Transition was the order of the afternoon. The sixth-seeded Chaos used it again and again and again to fuel a 15-9 upset over the second-seeded Atlas and advance to the PLL championship game for the second year in a row. The Chaos erased an 8-5 halftime deficit and ran away via a 9-0 run that turned the second half into one-way traffic.

“I was seeing open long poles,” goalie Blaze Riorden said of his instantaneous outlets that sparked many of the Chaos’ transition opportunities.

Riorden made 17 saves (68 percent), and like the MVP finalist usually does, he made the spectacular look routine. He had 10 saves in the second half alone. Dhane Smith led the way on the stat sheet with six points on three goals and three assists. His roommate and fellow Buffalo Bandit, Josh Byrne, wasn’t far behind with four goals and one assist.

“We’re just gonna keep playing Chaos ball,” Byrne said on the NBCSN broadcast after his second goal — a twister shot in transition.

That meant fast and physical.

The Chaos’ defense held the Atlas’ offense scoreless for nearly 21 minutes. Jeff Teat finally ended the scoring drought with 5:01 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Teat, a finalist for MVP, Attackman of the Year and Rookie of the Year, had eight points in a 16-10 win over the Chaos earlier this summer. This afternoon, he was marked by Jack Rowlett, who missed the previous matchup while recovering from a broken nose he sustained in a win over the Cannons.

Teat managed one assist and two goals. Both were in unsettled situations.

“It’d be a heck of matchup,” Rowlett, a Defenseman of the Year Finalist for the second season in a row, said last week regarding the opportunity to guard Teat for the first time since the U19 FIL World Championship in 2016.

“I think our defense is getting better every week,” Chaos head coach Andy Towers said. “I think we’re really dictating the tempo going the other way.”

The Chaos triple-poled the Atlas’ vaunted midfield, electing to put short-sticks on Jake Carraway and Eric Law for much of the game. After trailing 4-1 after the first quarter, the Atlas took their first lead of the game with eight minutes remaining in the second quarter on a diving attempt by Law in which he split two defenders. Bryan Costabile scored a two-point goal less than a minute later to punctuate the Atlas’ seven-point second quarter that put them ahead 8-5.

The second half began the same way the first started, with a pole goal from the Chaos. Long-stick midfielders Troy Reh and CJ Costabile each found the back of the net for two-pointers. The frenetic pace and poles presence in the offensive end brought back shades of the 2019 regular season, when the Chaos claimed the No. 1 seed with a fast-paced style and their much publicized “Bomb Squad” of poles who scored two-point goals.

“It’s a product of them giving me shots I want to see,” Riorden said of the team’s tempo and one of the reasons he leads the league in clean saves.

This season, the Chaos stumbled to an 0-3 start but rebounded finish the regular season 4-5. Two weeks after topping the third-seeded Archers and holding the most efficient offense in the league to 10 goals, the Chaos lived up to their name and again stunned a higher seeded team. Max Adler went 10-for-22 at the faceoff stripe but earned Towers’ praise because he prevented Trevor Baptiste from winning draws clean and sparking transition.

“We’ve got an unbelievably tight locker room and these guys are genuinely playing for each other ... That’s when guys become really dangerous,” Towers said. 

When the final whistle sounded, the Chaos’ transition wasn’t done just yet. The entire team raced to get their goalie.

“I think the best is yet to come,” Riorden said of his squad that’s now one step closer to its first PLL title.







THREE-PEAT CHANCE KEPT ALIVE

The Whipsnakes did not require the late-game heroics of Matt Rambo on the same field on which he sealed the 2019 PLL championship game. Instead, the fifth-seeded Whipsnakes used a balanced attack to advance to their third straight title game after a 14-10 over the top-eeded Waterdogs.

The team that doesn’t talk about a three-peat now has chance to do just that after a season in which it experienced a rougher regular season than perhaps the previous two combined. But on the banks of the Delaware River that barely showed a trace of wind Sunday afternoon, the Whipsnakes charted their path back to the PLL promised land.  

They sealed the opportunity with a balanced attack and a new starter in the goal anchoring the defense. Zed Williams led the way with five goals and continued his torrid pace during the playoffs. Coming off a nine-point performance in the Whipsnakes’ come-from-behind win over the Redwoods in the quarterfinals, Williams now has 10 goals through two playoff games.

“What are you supposed to do with Zed Williams?” play-by-play announcer Brendan Burke asked on the NBCSN broadcast after Williams’ fourth goal in which he used a swim dodge to evade an oncoming defender.

The Waterdogs were left searching for answers. They held Williams scoreless in their regular season meeting, an 11-6 win, but struggled to contain the MVP of the 2020 PLL Championship Series.

“They’re a different team than the first time we saw them,” said Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan at halftime, which his team entered trailing 7-5.

A big reason why is Rambo’s return. The Whipsnakes were missing him for that loss in Colorado Springs, as they did for much of the regular season after he sustained a broken hand in Week 3. The Whipsnakes stumbled to a 1-3 record without him after starting the season 3-0.

“Every time we ran into those obstacles, we got better from it,” Whipsnakes head coach Jim Stagnitta said.

Since Rambo’s return during the final week of the regular season in Albany, the Whips are 3-1. While Rambo finished with a relatively modest — at least by his standards — two goals and one assist, his gravitational pull created openings for his teammates. Eight Whipsnakes finished with at least one point. Brad Smith had four points on two goals and two assists. Jay Carlson had a hat trick, including an under-the-legs effort that beat Dillon Ward (nine saves, 39 percent) five-hole.

Brian Phipps made 13 saves (57 percent) his first start of the season — the first game in Whipsnakes history that Kyle Bernlohr did not start. Phipps, an 11-year pro lacrosse veteran who won a Major League Lacrosse championship in 2019, replaced Bernlohr two weeks earlier for the second half of the Whipsnakes’ quarterfinal win.

In his first game since Week 1, Michael Sowers, the No. 2 pick in this year’s college draft, had three points on one goal and two assists. Kieran McArdle led the Waterdogs with six points on three goals and three assists.

Long after most of the fans had exited Subaru Park, Rambo remained on the field signing autographs. He told the production team that his family and friends had purchased more than 200 tickets for the game. As he jogged off the field, where a little less than two years ago he was doused in Gatorade and celebrated the Whips’ first championship, those few who were still in the stands chanted his name.

The King of Philly is on to D.C.

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