August 24, 2014

Denver-Rochester MLL Title Game Leaves Footprint on Atlanta

by Stan Awtrey | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

KENNESAW, Ga. -- Not only did Major League Lacrosse determine a new champion on Saturday, it also strengthened the reputations of a couple of legendary figures and found a fertile field for a future franchise.

Denver's amazing 12-11 victory was one of the more dramatic since the league was formed in 2001. The Outlaws got a last-minute goal from Drew Snider and won their first Steinfeld Trophy, ending eight years of futility and setting off a raucous on-field celebration.

The Outlaws hugged each other and mugged for cameras. And when they assembled for an impromptu group photo, there was veteran John Grant Jr. stretched out on the ground in the very front row.

"It means the world," said goalkeeper Jesse Schwartzman, who, along with defenseman Lee Zink, have been part of the Denver franchise in every season of its existence. "We did this for Mr. [Pat] Bowlen who is back home battling illness [Alzheimer's]. He's a tremendous owner. It's a first-class organization from top to bottom. Unfortunately it took us eight years to do it, but it's worth it, and I couldn't be happier or more proud of this team. We fought all game, and we were down all game. Just the resilience and the confidence we have in each other. We stuck the course, and we won."

Not only did Denver come from behind to win the game, it came from way behind. After the Outlaws scored the first goal, Rochester scored the next five. The Rattlers led 10-5 going into the last period, giving Rochester fans cause to start prematurely celebrating their first championship since 2008.

That's when Grant took over the game. He scored two quick unassisted goals to open the period and set up Eric Law for another. Rochester tried to stop the momentum on Dave Lawson's goal, but Denver tied the game on Jeremy Sieverts' two-pointer with 5:35 left.

From that point each team had opportunities, only to be denied by Schwartzman and Rochester goalkeeper John Galloway. Snider fired in a 15-yard shot past Galloway to the far pipe off a pass from Justin Pennington with only 56 seconds left.

» Highlights
» Post-Game Interviews
» In-Game Blog/Recap
» Photo Gallery
» Grant Sparks Comeback

Rochester led 10-6 heading into the fourth quarter, but couldn't close it out in an entertaining MLL championship. League officials and players left Atlanta thinking positively of the league's potential future there. (Kevin Liles).

Grant, who had a hat trick, was named the game's MVP, an honor he gained a year ago in helping Chesapeake win the championship. The 39-year-old veteran is now 5-for-5 in championship appearances.

"The problem in the MLL is there's that ebb and flow of the momentum, and when we're up 10-6 at one point there, and they start coming back, we answer, so we started feeling good about it again," Rochester coach Tim Soudan said. "The tough part ends up being they're feeling really good about themselves because of the momentum going into the last minute of the game. It was kind of tough. But John Grant Jr. just turned it on. They scored in a lot of different ways."

O'Hara put his own name in the record book, too. He became the first to coach two different franchises to MLL championships. He was the Rochester coach that beat Denver in the 2008 final.

"That means I'm old," O'Hara said. "I've been around a while. I'm so happy for the Denver Outlaws organization. They do it right. I appreciate the confidence they had in me to take over this year. I inherited a great bunch of guys that were dedicated from day one to getting themselves to this game and hopefully get ourselves a trophy, and that's exactly what they did."

In addition to Grant's hat trick, the Outlaws got a pair of goals from Sieverts, Chris Bocklet and Eric Law, as well as single goals from Snider and Dom Sebastiani. Rochester got a hat trick from Dave Lawson and John Ranagan and single scores from Justin Turri, Michael Lazore and rookies Jordan Wolf and Miles Thompson.

"Obviously they're a great team. They're not going to let anything slip," Rochester attacker Kevin Leveille said. "They're not going to give up till the end. It just comes down to, looking back, probably a lot of little things we did wrong. I think we were right there, and it just comes down to hitting shots, ground balls, and saves. Somewhere along the line they got one-up on us, and that was it."

At least there's no more speculation about whether the Rattlers will return to Rochester. That was settled last week when commissioner Dave Gross announced the club will stay put.

"Well, I think we've got a bright future," Soudan said. "I think we're a team with the core guys that we have, and we're going to be able to stay established in this league. It really comes down to culture, and each team is different every year based on retirement and work and everything else that goes on. We're just going to try to get better, and most importantly I love these guys, and it was a heck of a year to be involved with, and like I said, I wouldn't trade these guys for nothing."

Also established was the need and desire to put a franchise in the Atlanta area. A fully involved crowd of 8,149 showed up at Kennesaw State University's Fifth Third Bank Stadium to watch the title game. The atmosphere wasn't the sort of neutral crowd you might expect and left players and officials impressed.

"I've been playing since the very beginning of this league and this is one of the best venues I've ever played in," Grant said. "As far as the turf and the fans, it was almost like this place was built for a game like this. Two great teams played a great game, and these fans were on top of it. It was awesome. I'm glad I was here for it."

League founder Jake Seinfeld said, "It feels really great. We have some good groups that want to put the team here. If I could replicate this stadium 12 times, we'd be banging. I love Atlanta. Ted Turner gave me my start, Coca-Cola been partner of mine for long time and I love this town. To be here tonight and see the people get so engaged and thoroughly enjoy the game, it was great."

The MLL has stated a goal to have a franchise in Atlanta for the 2016 season.

"This is phenomenal. It is unbelievable," Sieverts said. "They definitely should have a team down here. It's a great atmosphere."

MLL Championship Highlights

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Snider Game-Winner

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Sieverts' Tying Two-Pointer

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Post-Game Interviews

John Grant Jr.

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Jesse Schwartzman

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B.J. O'Hara

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