Panther Lacrosse makes history, falls just short of state title

OTHS Boys Lacrosse

O’Fallon came close, but ultimately fell to Priory in double overtime in the state final championship game (Photo by Tim Grout)

The OTHS Boys Lacrosse team made history this past week when they advanced to the MSLA State Championship game for the first time in school history following their 14-7 win over Fort Zumwalt on Thursday night.

Senior Mike Foytlin dominated the contest from start to finish, netting an overpowering eight goals in leading his team to a win in a contest where they never trailed. Fellow senior Caleb Neff also came up big for the Panthers in this one, scoring his first hat-trick of the playoffs, but this game was decided by a big improvement on the defensive end for O’Fallon.

“It’s a big help when the defense plays their game. This past week we have worked with the defense a lot and they really played well tonight. It eases the stress on the offense, and lets us focus on putting them in the net,” Neff said of the improved effort.

The result sent O’Fallon back to St. Charles for a Title Game match-up with 2015 State runner-up Priory on Saturday. The Panthers got out to a dream start in this one, getting 1st quarter goals from seniors Clint Van Etten, Caleb Neff, and Blake Branz en route to a 3-0 lead after one. Priory would not lie down, however, returning the favor in the second quarter with three of their own to tie the game at the half.

The second half got off to a slow start until Van Etten notched his second goal of the afternoon to give the Panthers a 4-3 lead. Then, just as time was expiring in the period, Priory fired off a shot that just beat the buzzer into the net, tying the game to set up what would be an epic finish.

Caleb Neff would again find the back of the twine to give his team a 5-4 lead, but then Priory answered with a pair of goals only two minutes apart to put the Panthers in their first hole since the early minutes of the Quarter-Finals. The Rebels would then dominate possession for the next 4-plus minutes, trying to bleed as much clock as they could.

O’Fallon caught a break off of a sloppy turnover, and Van Etten made Priory pay with his 3rd goal of the afternoon, locking the score at six with 1:17 remaining. The score would hold, and the Panthers readied themselves for the overtime period.

The game almost ended at the end of the 1st Overtime, when Priory appeared to have scored the game winning goal at the buzzer. But it was waved off when the referees ruled the shot did not get off in time, sending the game into a second overtime period. However, the Panthers would never touch the ball in the 2nd OT, as Priory scored 45 seconds into the extra frame to deliver the first lacrosse state championship in school history.

The result was heartbreak for everyone donning the Blue and Gold that day, but it was especially painful for the 13 seniors who had to miss that day’s Graduation ceremonies to compete on the field.

An emotional Coach McIntyre shared some of his thoughts after the game. “While this stings, and this hurts a lot, I couldn’t be prouder. It’s in these moments that we find out who we are… At the end of the day, it’s not about the on-field score, and this is the first O’Fallon team that has not only understood that, not only accepted it, but has thrived in these moments. In season number 17, I would take these guys anytime, anywhere. I’m proud of them.”

The MSLA recognized their All-State teams on the field after the game. OTHS had four members who were recognized, Seniors Harrison Berry, Mike Foytlin, Shane McIntyre, and Jack Belobrajdic. The 4 All-State honorees are tied for the most in Division 2 with State Champion Priory.