Despite comeback effort, Niceville Eagles fall just short

Monday night’s boys lacrosse game between Niceville and Leon high schools was one that will not be soon forgotten by Niceville lacrosse fans who traveled to see the game in Tallahassee!  It was, to say, a “heart stopper”!  The winner of this game would be seeded #1 in the 2A District 1 playoffs that begin soon.  The game was well worth the 2 hour drive to Tallahassee from Niceville.


Leon has had a very successful year this year, its best ever in fact.  Leon and Niceville have played before with Niceville winning handily the last two years.  Some of the Niceville and Leon players played on the same club team last year, the 850 Lacrosse Club coached by Maclay’s head coach, Justin VanTassle.  So there was some camaraderie between the players before the game began.


The first quarter almost gave the Niceville fans a heart attack as Leon would score 9 goals to Niceville’s 3.  Leon’s super sophomore, #42 Austin Kolman, would score 5 of his 9 goals in the first quarter alone!  Leon’s other big threat, senior #1 Grayson Henningsen would have 7 assists overall.   Leon’s #21, William Bulloch, would be a threat all night and end up with 2 goals and 2 assists.  Niceville’s long stick midfielder, junior Logan Lagrosse would score as would senior Gavin Gifford and sophomore Jake Ryan.  The first quarter ended with Niceville down by 6 goals on a score of 9-3 in favor of Leon.  Needless to say, the Niceville fans were shocked and there was no longer any doubt that Leon was as good as their ranking suggested they were.


The second quarter would result in Niceville’s “hole” getting deeper still.  Leon’s Austin Kolman continued to wreak havoc by scoring 3 more goals for Leon.  Niceville’s shooting accuracy continued to lag with a minority of shots being “on cage” and several shots bouncing off the goal frame (e.g. “pipe shots”). However, they were able to score twice with Gifford faking a pass and then shooting before the Leon goalie had a chance to figure out that Gifford still had the ball.  It was a pretty play to watch. Freshman Ren Nielsen had a great opportunity to score earlier in the quarter but the Leon goalie saved Nielsen’s close-in shot.  Nielsen would not miss the next time as Jackson Kane fed him for a break-away goal that left he score 12-5 in favor of Leon.


Once again Niceville found themselves down at the half like they were against Gulf Breeze a few weeks before.  If there ever was a half of a lacrosse game to be at it was the second half of this game.  As the third quarter began it was hard for even the most ardent Niceville fan to think that their team could come back against a good Leon team and their prolific scorer posting a 7 goal lead.  But just like they did against Gulf Breeze, Niceville would begin to come back in the 3rd quarter.  Scoring started with Leon’s Austin Kolman scoring his 9th goal of the contest. But then Niceville would go on a 3 goal scoring binge with Gifford scoring 2 goals and Jackson Kane placing a powerful shot over the shoulder of the Leon goalie.  The third quarter would end with Niceville’s deficit being cut from 7 to 5 goals and the score 13-8 in favor of Leon.  Any knowledgeable lacrosse fan knows that a 5 goal deficit in the 4th quarter is a pretty hefty challenge to overcome.  But that is what is beautiful about the sport of lacrosse.  Things can happen pretty quickly in this sport and such was the case for Niceville in the 4th quarter!


Niceville would score 5 goals and hold Leon to no goals scored in the quarter to tie the game!  Freshman Ren Nielsen got the scoring started when Jackson Kane fed him for what would become a breakaway goal that Nielsen deftly placed past the Leon goalie.  Niceville’s goalie, senior Rhett Thorson, would keep Niceville in the contest with two spectacular saves against point blank shots from the crease by Leon’s #36.  Thorson would expertly clear the ball for Niceville the entire game with long and accurate passes to his teammates.  Niceville would also begin to significantly increase their efforts to keep Leon from clearing the ball from their defensive end of the field.  This ended up giving Niceville more possessions and chances to score.  Gavin Gifford would use these extra possessions to place a high bouncing shot past the shoulder of Leon’s goalie.  Niceville’s Nolen Gifford and Trace Gallemore would dominate fourth quarter faceoffs and provide extra chances for Niceville to tie the game up.  Christian Carlee would score coming from behind the cage making the score 13-11 Leon with about 2 minutes left in the game.  Carlee would again score on a low worm burning rocket of a shot to make the score 13-12 with just under a minute to play.


I must say, when the second half started I was not optimistic that Niceville could pull off a comeback as monumental as this but here they were, down by a goal with just less than a minute to play in the 4th quarter.  The Eagles were on the verge of tying the game!  With about 30 seconds left in the game there was a scrum for a loose ground ball and Gifford came out of the scrum with the ball.  When he noticed the Leon defenders turning to retreat into their defensive zone Gifford took advantage of the moment, pressed onward toward the goal and scored with about 14 seconds left in the game.  The Niceville faithful in the stands went absolutely crazy.  It was all I could do to keep myself from tumbling down the stadium steps like a duckpin!  Regulation time ended with the unbelievable score of 13-13.


A four minute sudden death overtime began with each side getting a chance to score before Niceville was penalized for holding a dodging Leon player.  Unfortunately for Niceville, Leon would not waste the extra-man opportunity and put the dagger in Niceville’s heart with a score by #4 Michael Dixon.  Game over … and Leon would get the #1 seed for the District playoffs.


It is likely that these two teams will again face each other in the District playoffs.  When it gets scheduled, you won’t want to miss it!  District playoffs will take place between 8-13 April.  Check the Niceville schedule on MAXPREPS to find out who and when they will play after their game against Destin high school on Wednesday, 5 April.



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