It was not the opponent Chantilly had necessarily expected or hoped for at last week's Northern Region boys' lacrosse tournament championship game. The anticipated finals matchup against postseason nemesis Langley, the two-time defending state champion, never materialized as the Saxons were upset in a semifinals loss to upstart Annandale.
So it was the Atoms who stood in the way of the Chargers' bid of winning a second region crown in four years. Chantilly, a seasoned, playoff-hardened outfit under head coach Kevin Broderick, was not about to suffer any kind of a letdown in going up against a less-heralded opponent. The Chargers knew the Atoms would be coming at them at full force in their hopes of winning a first-ever region crown.
"We weren't sure who we would play but wanted to come out and give it our all," said Chantilly junior attack Luke Bowers. "Annandale is real good and they were looking to smoke us after beating Langley."
Sure enough, Annandale, playing in front of a large crowd base that included an enthusiastic, boisterous student body section, gave Chantilly quite a game in the finals contest played on Thursday night, April 26 at Robinson Secondary. But Chantilly, while being pressed hard, especially over the game's final quarter, weathered Annandale's upset bid and came away with a down-to-the-wire 12-11 triumph.
The region title was the first for Chantilly since 2008 and has the team riding high going into this week's state tournament quarterfinals where the Chargers were scheduled to host Patrick Henry High (Roanoke), the No. 3-seed from the Northwest Region, on Friday evening, June 3 at 6. The winner of that game will advance to next Wednesday's semifinals set to take place at Westfield High.
Also representing the Northern Region at the eight-team state playoffs will be Annandale, set to host E.C. Glass on Saturday, June 4 at 7, and Langley, this year's region consolation game winner for third place who will travel to Battlefield High School.
CHANTILLY (19-1), this year's Concorde District champion which reached the region title game with wins over Mount Vernon, Woodson, and West Springfield, jumped all over Annandale early on, scoring the game's first five goals and ultimately taking a five-goal advantage, 9-4, into halftime.
"We wanted to get out quick against them and that's what we did," said Bowers, of jumping out 5-0.
The lead was 11-8 after three quarters. In the fourth, the Atoms twice got within one goal - at 11-10 with 9 minutes 29 seconds remaining, and 12-11 with less than a minute to play.
The Atoms had possession of the ball with 25 seconds remaining before a steal by Chantilly's Jeff Morgan, a senior midfielder, helped seal the game for the Chargers. Annandale did get possession again in the waning seconds but could not get the ball up-field fast enough to get off a shot.
"We seem to be a second half team but tonight we came out strong in the first half," said Chantilly junior defenseman Drew Cormode, a Second Team All-Northern Region selection this spring. "We always seem to have close games at the end, but we showed our heart."
Chantilly's top scorers in the win were senior attack/midfielder Craig Penman and junior attack Daniel DeCenzo (1 assist), who both scored three times. DeCenzo scored the Chargers' final goal of the game with 8:37 remaining to make the score 12-10. On the score which proved to be the game-winner, DeCenzo, on a drive from the left corner of the field, sent a hard bounce shot towards the goal which went into the net. The timely score had come following consecutive goals to start the fourth quarter by Annandale that had gotten the Atoms within 11-10. DeCenzo's clutch score gave the Chargers a little breathing room going into the final eight-plus minutes.
Chantilly junior midfielder Cole Fitzgerald had two goals and two assists in the win. Also, single goals came from Devon Westerman (2 assists), Kyle O'Connor, Luke Bowers (3 assists), and Zach Pereira.
Chantilly goalie Eric Simmons earned the win in the net. The senior had several big saves in the second half.
"His play was huge," said Cormode, of the goalie.
"He really stepped up and seems to make stops when it really matters," added Bowers.
Annandale, the Patriot District champion which reached the region finals with wins over Jefferson, Robinson, and Langley, got three goals from senior Nate Miller, along with two apiece from Zack Lalande, Stephen Craig, and Ryan Miller (2 assists).
It was a great, well-earned win for Chantilly, whose only loss this season came during spring break to Langley.
"It's a one of a kind feeling," said Cormode, of Chantilly being region champs. "Only one team gets that title, and it feels amazing to bring it to our school."
DeCenzo said he and his teammates got a nice championship game boost from the supportive Chantilly fans who were out and cheering the Chargers on.
"We had all our fans out here," he said. "We worked hard as a team tonight."
During postgame ceremonies on the field, Chantilly was awarded the region championship trophy and players were given individual keepsakes.