MANCHESTER >> Winning the past two Division II championships, the Burr and Burton boys lacrosse team played nailbiting, fighting to the final whistle title games in back-to-back seasons.
The No. 4 seed Bulldogs were in the same situation on Thursday, this time in a quarterfinal against No. 5 Essex, but on this day, things didn't go BBA's way.
The Bulldogs were edged by the Hornets, 7-6, and were knocked out of the Division I playoffs.
"We have been in close ones so many times, we won both championships in games like this," said BBA coach Jason Pergament. "We had this calm faith that things would work out and the boys were shocked when it didn't work out."
On the strength of Jake Baker's pair of third quarter scores, the Bulldogs to a 5-4 lead in a defensive battle to the fourth quarter.
But Essex sophomore attacker Andrew Coolidge tied the game at 5-5, taking a feed from Henry Adams and firing it past the BBA keeper to get everything back to even.
A few minutes later, Essex scored again to make it 6-5 and then Adams again tallied, taking the wind out of the Bulldogs' sails and giving his team a 7-5 advantage with 4:15 remaining.
"We were pumped after we got the lead, but they kept possessing and we got tired on defense," said senior Nikolai Sands, who came up with a pair of assists in the first half. "We dug down really hard, the hardest we every have. I have so much respect for the guys on D, Essex just got the luck of the draw."
Essex won the next faceoff and kept control of the action on the offensive end, but as time ticked away, the Bulldogs got possession and Sean Apps made it a one-goal game with 46.7 seconds left and gave BBA a chance to tie the game.
"We made a change in defense to the zone, it stymied their offense and gave us opportunities," Pergament said. "They figured out we were in the zone, so they changed their offense. It's a chess match. How many times did we hit the pipes or crossbar today, or gave the goalie [easy] chances on shots?"
Ray Gormley won the final faceoff for the Bulldogs and they desperately searched for the equalizer, taking a couple of shots toward Essex keeper Avery Lamphere that went wide. With 15 seconds left, the Bulldogs lost possession and couldn't get it back as the buzzer sounded, sending the Hornets to the semifinals and BBA to the ground in disbelief.
"They wanted it as much as we did and it was a roll of the dice that went [Essex's] way," Pergament said.
Neither team could pull away in the first half. Essex broke the ice, then scores from Will Baker and Max Pagnucco gave BBA a 2-1 lead with less than a minute remaining in the first quarter. Then with 15 seconds to go, Noah Ferris scored when the ball took a weird bounce in front of the BBA goal and Ferris knocked it in to tie it.
David Forbes and Kipp Kelsey scored within a minute of each other in the second quarter to make it 4-2, but then Tommy Grabher cut the deficit to 4-3, scoring off an assist from Jake Baker.
BBA took the lead in the third quarter, setting up the fateful fourth.
Pergament was philosophical in his post-game huddle, reminding his players, high on emotion, that sports are a metaphor for life and that while losing feels horrible, it's something that happens throughout life.
"I have been with this group for four years and I wish I could have given them more, I wish we could have kept on winning," Pergament said. "I wanted them to come away with one more gold medal around their neck. They're my babies, I'm going to be sentimental at graduation. I'm a teacher [at BBA], so I see them in the classroom, on the field, at the pizza shop, I feel like I'm part of their life. It's a family. I want them to understand it's just a game. It's one that I sure as hell wanted to win just as much as they did. We gave it our best."
Sands, one of the seniors, said he feels that this season was the most enjoyable.
"I had the most fun of my life, I'll never forget this season," Sands said. "We had our hopes set on something bigger, but if it came to this, I'm happy. This group of guys is the most amazing, I couldn't ask for anything more. We fought so hard."
Burr and Burton ends the season at 12-5.