May 20, 2011

It's Over: Arizona State Ends Michigan's Dynasty with Gritty Defensive Effort

by Jac Coyne | | Twitter

Arizona State rookie Mike Montella (above) scored a pair of goals and the Sun Devil defense stifled Michigan, ending the Wolverine's dynasty in the MCLA semifinals.
© Cecil Copeland

Arizona State goalie Dylan Westfall made a save on a desperation shot and ran to the corner of the field as time ran out in the Sun Devil's 7-6 win over Michigan in the second MCLA Division I semifinal on Friday night. None of the defeated Wolverine players fell to the ground or threw their equipment or hung their heads.

They just tapped their goalie on the head, shook hands with the victors and headed for the locker room.

And just like that, they were gone.

Nearly four full years of Michigan hegemony came to an end in the face of a dominating defensive effort by ASU, keyed by the play of Westfall. Although credited with just nine saves, he appeared to have considerably more.

"What did he have? 15 saves? 17?" asked Arizona State head coach Chris Malone. "If you have a goalie that makes that many saves and a defense that plays out of its minds, you're going to win big games."

The Sun Devils allowed just one goal in the first quarter – a transition goal by Trevor Yealy off a turnover at midfield – but held a two goal lead on consecutive goals by senior Eric Nelson. The Wolverines returned the favor in the second quarter, blanking ASU while Yealy and Chad Carroll gave the defending champions a 3-2 lead heading into the break.

In the third period, ASU put it all together and gave the crowd at Dick's Sporting Goods Park the first indication that this could be surprising evening. Michigan was kept off the board for nearly the entire quarter while the Devils scored four goals in the span of 3:04 to give the No. 5 seed a 6-3 cushion.

"I thought they played an outstanding defensive game against Chapman and they repeated that tonight," said Michigan head coach John Paul. "They played great defense. We weren't very explosive and I don't know why. Our offense hasn't been super-explosive this year. We rely on execution and making great plays. When a team is playing defense that well, it is hard for us to break them down."

Yealy, who accounted for two-thirds of the Wolverines' output, managed to prevent UM from being shutout with a goal 28 seconds before the end of the third that narrowed the ASU lead to 6-4.

As the fourth began, the stadium prepped for the inevitable Michigan comeback attempt. It started with Yealy finishing all alone in front of the net for an easy marker at 11:02. Six minutes later, Stephen Levitt rolled to the front of the cage and bounced a screened shot by Westfall to bring the teams even with 5:13 remaining in the contest.

The Wolverines followed that up with an extended possession, but the Arizona State defense was still up to the task, springing Ryan Westfall on a break, and the premier midfielder in the MCLA found Nelson on the doorstep for the eventual game-winner.

"Last year, we got down and we didn't have the heart to come back," said Nelson. "This year, Michigan made their run, but we didn't care because we knew we were going to get it back."

"They are a good team and they are going to score," said Malone of Michigan. "You're not going to shut them out, but you have to make sure they work for everything they get. I feel like we did that."

Michigan's loss not only signals the end of its dynasty, but likely its tenure in the MCLA. It is expected that the UM athletic department will officially announce the program's immediate move to NCAA Division I early next week. Regardless of the impending move, and this loss, the Wolverines' non-varsity legacy will linger.

"This senior class has been unbelievable with what they've done," said Paul. "They have two losses in four years, three national championships and four conference championships. We've been in a lot of close games and it's not like we've rolled everyone we've played. Other than one other time before this, we've won them. We had the poise to make a run at the end of this one, but give them credit. They had a great game plan and got it done. We didn't."

Arizona State will now face BYU – winners of the other semifinal against Colorado State – in the national championship game that begins at 6 p.m. MDT on Saturday.

When the final horn sounded on Friday night, most of the Sun Devil players ran toward Dylan Westfall to congratulate the goalie. Dylan's older brother, Ryan, ran in the other direction. He sprinted to Nelson and picked him up with hug. The embrace was a cathartic moment for the two after they came up a goal short in last year's national championship game to Michigan.

Now they'll get another chance.

"It felt really good," admitted Nelson of the hug. "I'm hoping it feels even better tomorrow."

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