After a sluggish first half in which the Rutgers Prep boys lacrosse team committed five uncharacteristic penalties, allowed three extra man goals and trailed Mountain Lakes 6-2, the lights came on.
It started with a five-minute defensive hold to begin the third period, and eventually Jack Vajda cracked through with a goal with 3:28 remaining in the period.
“It was the biggest momentum swing of the game,” said Argonauts defender Ryan Dennis. “They scored all those man up goals in the first half, but we remained clam and sat back in our zone and rode them off for a five-minute stretch.”
Then it was Evan Lombardo beating the clock with four seconds left in the period timing the Argonauts deficit to a manageable 6-4 difference heading into the final quarter.
Then came the explosion.
Playing in its first NJSIAA Tournament of Champions quarterfinals seemed to bother fourth-seeded Rutgers Prep none down the stretch as they outscored the perennial power and fifth-seeded Lakers 7-2 in the final quarter and picked up a shocking 11-8 victory at Bridgewater-Raritan High School’s Basilone Field.
“It all came down to six-on-six offense. We outscored them 11-2 in six on six,” said Rutgers Prep coach J.J. Quenault. “We got hurt in the beginning with a man down. We cleaned it up, but six on six we can score against anybody and we pride ourselves on that.
Lakers attackman Christian Cuccinello torched the Argonauts defense four four goals and two assists in the first half, but he was limited to just a goal with 3:43 left to play in regulation thereafter.
“The kid is a great player. I guess it took me a couple plays to get used to his tenancies,” said Dennis, “and in the second half I picked up on a few things. I tried to shut down his left hand and make him go right a little bit more.”
Mitch Hagan finished with one goal and four assists and teammate Evan Lombardo tallied three goals for the Rutgers Prep (19-2), which will move on to face top-seeded Ridge in the Tournament of Champions semifinals at Kean University Wednesday night.
Also contributing for the Argos was Jack Vajda with a pair of goals and two assists and Elliot Dennis with two goals.
Cuccinello finished with a game-high seven points including four goals for Mountain Lakes (15-6).