Whip Lash! Whipsnakes Stun Chaos with 10-Goal Rally, Repeat as PLL Champ


Zed Williams celebrates after earning PLL MVP honors with a six-goal performance Sunday, as Whipsnakes stormed back from a 6-2 deficit to defeat Chaos 12-6 in the Championship Series final.

On the eve of the Premier Lacrosse League Championship Series final Sunday, Chaos coach Andy Towers encouraged his players to find their dark side. Just one problem.

The PLL already has an evil empire.

Whipsnakes went nearly 29 minutes without a goal, then exploded for a game-ending 10-goal run to defeat Chaos 12-6 in the championship game Sunday at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah.

The Whips completed an undefeated run through the fan-less, quarantined tournament that started July 25 and ended with them hoisting the glass cup for the second straight year in front of a national broadcast TV audience on NBC.

Zed Williams scored five of his PLL single-game record-tying six goals in the fourth quarter, including four in less than two minutes as the Whipsnakes offense sprung to life after a lackluster performance through three quarters.

Williams got emotional during an interview on the field after being named the PLL MVP, an honor which he dedicated to his late father, Dan, who died unexpectedly in 2017 in the middle of Williams’ senior season at Virginia.

“I had to make something happen,” said Williams, who finished with a tournament-best 20 goals. “We got to the fourth quarter and, you know, um, this one’s for my dad.”

Williams abruptly left the microphone stand after one question to rejoin his teammates, who broke from their celebration to embrace him as he cried.

Five months ago, Williams wasn’t even in the PLL. Whipsnakes coach Jim Stagnitta tabbed him with the fifth overall pick in the March 16 entry draft after losing several offensive players in the expansion draft a month earlier.

“He’s the nicest guy I’ve ever met in my life. He’s just so talented,” Whipsnakes goalie Kyle Bernlohr said on NBC. “Just an unbelievable draft pick by Coach Stags. I just can’t say enough about Zed.”

“Thank God we have Zed on the team now,” said Matt Rambo, the 2019 PLL MVP.

Both Rambo, who finished as the top scorer of the PLL Championship Series with 25 points, and Williams were blanked by Redwoods in the Whipsnakes’ semifinal win Thursday — a game that went to overtime after the Whips coughed up an 8-2 lead and sputtered on offense.

That trend continued in the championship game Sunday. After scoring the first two goals, Whipsnakes went silent. Chaos deployed a suffocating defense and surprisingly methodical offense, milking the shot clock and then capitalizing at the end of possessions. They choked off the Whips’ deadly transition game and made it a half-field affair.

Chaos scored six unanswered goals, including another highlight-reel variety act by Josh Byrne, to go up 6-2. Even after Brad Smith scored to end a Whipsnakes drought of 28 minutes, 59 seconds, the pace favored Chaos.

Then the fourth quarter happened.

John Haus scored on a short-stick invert to make it 6-4 with 10:12 remaining. Five seconds later, Joe Nardella (12-for-19) fed Williams in the left slot off a clean faceoff win and the 6-foot-2 righty dropped his hands to score on a submarine shot. The floodgates opened from there.

Williams tied it at 6 with 9:41 left when he split a double team, got point blank on Chaos goalie Blaze Riorden (14 saves), pulled his stick across his head and used a twister finish to beat him.

Twenty-two seconds later, Rambo fed the ball in front to Jay Carlson, who pump faked and scored the go-ahead goal.

“I felt like in the first half we had some opportunities, but we weren’t necessarily playing offense the way we play. It was a lot of one-on-one, and Blaze was able to see what we were doing,” Stagnitta said on NBC. “We got back to the game plan in the second half — inverts, finding people off the ball and then, Zed, I didn’t coach that. That just happened.”

Chaos called timeout after Carlson’s goal but could not stem the tide. Williams finished the torrid stretch with two more tallies, coming off a screen for a time-and-room blast to make it 8-6 and then bowling over Jack Rowlett at the top of the arc before using the Chaos defenseman as a screen for a goal that made it 9-6 with 8:11 remaining.

In a matter of two minutes, Chaos went from leading 6-3 to trailing 9-6.

“They punched us in the mouth for a lot of those minutes there,” Bernlohr said. “Luckily we took over at the end.”

Chaos squandered a power-play opportunity when Whipsnakes defenseman Tim Muller pressed out to cause a turnover. Rambo capitalized on the other end, scoring on an inside roll-and-dive to deliver the proverbial dagger.

Williams added one more goal for good measure, roll-dodging through a double-team and tucking a shot inside the near pipe.

By the time Joe LoCascio finished off the 10-goal flurry with 1:16 left, the Whips were already celebrating while a stunned silence came over the normally boisterous Chaos sideline. They had come so close to completing a most unlikely first-to-worst-to-first turnaround. The top seed in the playoffs a year ago, Chaos went winless in group play before making it to the championship game as the No. 7 seed among seven teams.

Conversely, Whipsnakes went undefeated in group play while amassing a plus-24 goal differential. They found tougher sledding in the semifinals and championship game, eking past Redwoods on Jeremy Sieverts’ game-winner in overtime and then rallying at just the right time to defeat Chaos.

Asked by an NBC reporter to compare the 2020 championship to the 2019 title, Stagnitta replied, “This one was tougher. It’s the hardest thing in sports to repeat.”

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