ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Last-minute rally, last-second sudden victory, last-a-lifetime memories.
Ward Melville scored four straight goals in the final 1:01 to stunningly force overtime, and Matt Grillo made a spectacular solo dodge from behind the cage to deliver the winner with one second remaining in OT as the Patriots improbably jolted fan favorite Pittsford, 10-9, Saturday in the state Class A championship game played at St. John Fisher College.
It was the ninth state title for Ward Melville (20-2), which finished on a 15-game winning streak, and the first for coach Jay Negus, who took over the program when Mike Hoppey retired following the 2013 title. Hall of Fame coach Joe Cuozzo won the first seven. “Unbelievable!” Negus exclaimed. “Holy cow! We’re the comeback kids!”
Grillo, who scored three goals, started his winning play from the end line with six seconds left. “Coach called a play, but I didn’t think there was enough time for it,” he said. “I saw there wasn’t going to be a slide so I just beat my man, ran in and took it. I shot it high, top-right corner. I’m feeling every emotion in my body right now.”
Pittsford is less than three miles from Growney Stadium, training camp home of the Buffalo Bills, and for 47 minutes, the Panthers were prowling and their huge throng of followers was howling. But in the 48th minute of regulation, Ward Melville snapped to attention.
The Patriots had trailed 9-4 with 4:26 left and were still behind by four with 3:43 left when Grillo scored off a feed from Liam Davenport. “Really, at that point, there was no margin for error,” faceoff specialist Mike Giaquinto said. “I knew I had to win them all.”
The junior did not err even once down the stretch. “I was on a roll the whole game,” said Giaquinto, who won 19 of 22 faceoffs. The situation was still desperate when Eddie Munoz scored, unassisted, with 1:01 left to make it 9-6 and got on a roll himself.
“We preached the whole season never to give up, and we’ve been a second half-team, but it was obviously very scary at the end,” said Munoz, who fueled the stunning turnaround with a natural hat trick in 34.4 seconds. “We stayed poised and played hard to the final whistle and now we’re champions.”
The Patriots would have been state runners-up if Giaquinto hadn’t continuously given them late possessions. “I trusted him,” Grillo said.
Giaquinto justified that faith. Munoz connected on a feed from Grillo to make it 9-7 with 34 seconds left. Then 7.4 seconds later, right off the draw, Giaquinto came down the alley and fed Munoz for another goal. “You could feel the momentum pick up,” Giaquinto said.
Giaquinto, a junior, kept the feeling going with another faceoff win and after one errant shot, Grillo got open and converted a pass from Andrew Lockhart to tie it with eight seconds left to force sudden death when it appeared, only moments earlier, that Ward Melville didn’t have a pulse.
Early in overtime, after a long Ward Melville possession, Gavin Catalano (11 saves) made a good stop on Munoz and the Panthers (19-2) came the other way. Jeremy Jacob had a clean look, but Perry Cassidy made his best and most important save to give Ward Melville the ball one more time. Munoz shot it wide, putting the ball in Grillo’s stick on the restart.
A special day was about to produce a special moment. “It’s my birthday,” Grillo revealed. “It went from the worst birthday ever to the best birthday ever in about a minute.”
It was a birthday gift that will last and last and last.