The Buffalo Bandits will watch the National Lacrosse League playoffs from home for a second straight season.
Buffalo, facing a must-win situation in the regular season finale, fell 15-13 to the rival Rochester Knighthawks in front of a sellout crowd of 19,070 in KeyBank Center.
"We let each other down, basically," Bandits Head Coach Troy Cordingley said. "We got caught up in the game where we made some poor decisions and the ball was in the back of our net. That's part of the game, but we've got to learn to correct that sooner than later."
Buffalo got within a goal down the stretch thanks to a Dhane Smith tally with 1:06 remaining in regulation. The Bandits won the ensuing faceoff, but Jordan Durston dropped a pass, the Knighthawks recovered and KHawks forward Kyle Jackson iced the game with an empty-net goal.
"Unfortunately, it just got dropped in the middle," Smith said. "It's just one of those games where the bounces weren't going our way."
The Bandits concluded the season with an 8-10 record. Buffalo's 2018 campaign, which featured numerous hot and cold streaks, fittingly ended on a three-game losing rut.
"We went on a wrong streak at the wrong time," Cordingley said. "There are a lot of young guys in that room. This is a good learning experience for them. They've got to give more to get where we want to get to. It's a tough pill to swallow, but you've got to swallow it and move on and figure things out."
The Knighthawks, who secured a spot in the playoffs, will play the loser of Sunday's 5 p.m. matchup between the New England Black Wolves and the Georgia Swarm in the divisional semifinal.
Saturday's game was eerily similar to last week's outing against the Toronto Rock, as the Bandits let early 2-0 leads slip away in both outings. The Knighthawks responded to the Buffalo spurt with three straight and got up by as many as four goals in the first half. However, like last week, the Bandits mounted a second-quarter comeback to cut the lead to 8-7 at the break.
The teams traded goals until late in the third, when Rochester went on a five-goal run in five minutes of game action. The Bandits, who knew they were fighting for their season, clawed back and cut the lead to 14-12 with 9:39 remaining in the fourth.
A five-minute high sticking penalty on Buffalo's Kevin Brownell with 5:19 on the clock appeared to be a backbreaker. That didn't doom the team, though, as Buffalo killed off most of the penalty before Smith's final hope-stirring goal.
"We honestly played better once we got that five," Smith said. "We had to come together as a group and I think we did that. We've got a lot of upside on this team. ... It's tough to end it like this."
A win would have secured a playoff berth for the Bandits, as Toronto fell to Colorado Saturday night. Buffalo needed a victory and for either Toronto or New England to lose this week.
Buffalo's eight wins are a two-win improvement from last season, when the Bandits finished last in the nine-team league at 6-10.
"It was definitely a more enjoyable year than last year," Bandits forward Mitch Jones said. "It might not seem it right now. We have a great group of guys in there. We've got some young blood. ... We were close, but not quite there."
Jones led the Bandits with four goals and two assists. Shawn Evans had three goals and an assist, while Smith had two goals and three assists. Jackson led the Knighthawks with four goals and four assists.
Rochester forward Joe Resetarits, a Hamburg native, etched his name into the record books on his hometown turf. He set a new NLL record for single-season points by an American-born player, surpassing the previous record of 94 set by Tom Schreiber last season. With his two goals and four assists Saturday, Resetarits finished the season with 100 points.
"I never dreamt I'd be where I am today, even playing professional lacrosse," Resetarits said. "It still hasn't hit me, dawned on me yet. I'll enjoy tonight, I guess, but I know we've got a new season ahead of us starting Friday."