The Buffalo Bandits came painfully close to pulling one of the greatest upsets in their 16-year history Friday night.
After leading by as many as three goals in the fourth quarter, the Bandits fell, 14-13, to the Rochester Knighthawks when John Grant Jr. scored 26 seconds into overtime, on the first possession of the extra session before 8,558 in Blue Cross Arena.
"It was a designed play and I was going to go to the net," said Grant, who won the regular season scoring championship with 111 points, "and if I got doubled I'd just feed it. But they didn't come so I went underneath. . . . I aimed high and at the last second I tried to drop it between his [Buffalo goaltender Mike Thompson's] legs. It went off his stick and his leg, bounced around a bit and went in."
That score ruined an inspired performance by Thompson, who made 52 saves in just his second postseason start. He was substituting for 2006 National Lacrosse League Most Valuable Player Steve Dietrich, who missed a third straight game with a knee injury.
"Throughout the game he [Grant] had a tendency to go the other way," said Thompson, who allowed only two total goals in the middle quarters when the Bandits forged their lead. "He came like a twister. He looks like he's shooting short [side] but he goes long to the far side. I thought I had it. It pinched between the ground and my leg but it squeezed through there. I didn't even see it go in."
The Bandits finish 11-7, while the Knighthawks (16-2) advance to the National Lacrosse League's Champion's Cup final on a 14-game winning streak. John Tavares and Kevin Dostie each had two goals and three assists for the Bandits, who went 0-3 against the Knighthawks this season and lost for the eighth time in their last nine overtime games.
For a while it looked like OT wasn't even a possibility. Tavares' shot that beat Rochester goalie Pat O'Toole between the legs with 13:40 remaining gave the Bandits their second three-goal lead at 12-9.
"I was worried the whole time that something like this might happen," said Bandits coach Darris Kilgour. "I really thought we needed to score 14 goals in order to win and ironically they scored 14 and won."
Suddenly the Knighthawks were quicker to the ball and started peppering Thompson with shots. Scott Evans scored on the rebound of Mike Accursi's shot with 12:58 left, then -- after the Bandits seemed content to simply burn time -- Rochester struck for three goals in 1 minute, 10 seconds.
"I knew it [the lead] wasn't safe and we didn't want to wake them up," said Tavares. "They just kept getting the ball back and forcing us into some bad shots."
First, Evans scored with 3:33 left on the third shot of a Rochester possession. Then Sandy Chapman's rebound of a shot by Luke Forget that rattled off the goal post made it 12-12 with 2:54 to go. Accursi's fifth score of the night put the Knighthawks up one with 2:23 remaining. The Bandits got into OT on Dostie's score with 1:43 to play.