St. Francis’ Matthew Snyder, right, tries to control the puck as Bowling Green’s Blake Powers defends during their district final Friday. The Knights won and will play in a state semifinal March 11. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
Fighting fatigue and surviving on adrenaline, St. Francis de Sales junior Ben Mitchell simply sent a puck toward the Bowling Green net in double overtime of the district title game Friday night.
The fateful shot capped a hat trick for the forward and sent the Knights back to Columbus. Top-ranked St. Francis advanced to a state semifinal with a thrilling 3-2 win against fifth-ranked Bowling Green before a standing-room-only crowd of 1,600 at Tam-O-Shanter in Sylvania.
Mitchell scored all three of the Knights’ goals, including the game-winner 2:22 into the second overtime. St. Francis (24-5-2) outshot the Bobcats 44-24, including 11-2 in the overtimes.
“This was incredible,” Mitchell said. “I’m just really enjoying the moment. You dream of this as a kid. I just wanted to get it on net. I was tired. It went off their defenseman’s stick and went five hole.”
IN PICTURES: St. Francis beats Bowling Green in 2OT
VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS: St. Francis 3, Bowling Green 2, 2OT
Bowling Green senior goalie Brett Rich finished with 41 saves. Senior Adam Furnas and junior Logan Bergeron scored for the Bobcats (22-8-0), who fell for the second consecutive season to the Knights in the district championship.
St. Francis sophomore goalie Jacob Coward finished with 21 saves. Gabe Barrow, Tim Organ, and Blake Storer all had assists for the Knights.
St. Francis had to kill off a two-minute power-play to start the second overtime. Mitchell then notched the hat trick after he just sent a puck toward the Bobcat net and it deflected off of the stick of a BG defenseman to send St. Francis’ players and fans into a frenzy.
“I saw my buddy Blake Storer going back door, and it was just a lucky bounce,” Mitchell said.
The Knights won the state title in 2015 and lost in a state semifinal last season. St. Francis advances to face the winner of the Columbus district final game between St. Charles and Olentangy Liberty that will be played tonight. The Knights will play in the state semifinal at 1 p.m. March 11 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus.
“I just told them to keep going and to never quit,” St. Francis coach Chris Varga said. “That’s an unbelievable team over there. It was anybody’s game. But the boys wanted to win. Good things happen when you crash the net and shoot at the net. We set our goals and we never quit. We kept forcing and forcing, and finally something came our way. This was unbelievable.”
BG came out quickly with two quality chances. Furnas just missed on the first shot of the game, eight seconds in, and then Alex Messenger hit the post moments later.
“This was an epic game from two teams that were pretty evenly matched,” BG coach Eddie Powers said. “They obviously just made one more play. It’s a shame someone had to lose. We were trying to keep it simple and trying to get the puck to the net.”
A Bobcats turnover resulted in the game’s first goal as Mitchell scored unassisted with 7:46 left in the first. Rich made a stop on Nick Daly in the waning moments of the first as the Knights finished with a 10-5 edge in shots.
Mitchell then displayed great speed to get around a BG defenseman up the right wing and he finished with a backhander to put St. Francis up 2-0 just 59 seconds into the second.
But the Bobcats responded with two goals just 57 seconds apart to tie it at 2. Furnas scored on a wraparound less than two minutes after the Knights went up 2-0. Then Bergeron scored on a one-timer off of a nice assist from Devon Dohanos to tie it with 11:17 left in the second.
St. Francis then ramped up the pressure and kept the action in the BG end for the rest of the period, finishing with a 12-9 edge in shots. Rich was strong, then Mitchell hit the post with 3:56 left.
Both teams killed off power plays in the third as the Knights had a 11-8 edge in shots. Coward made a game-saving stop on Dohanos with 1:47 left in regulation.
St. Francis held BG without a shot in the first OT and had eight shots on goal. Furnas then had a solo breakaway in the final seconds of OT and was hauled down by Storer before getting off a shot. The Bobcats were awarded a power play, getting to start the second 4-on-4 OT with the man advantage.
“It didn’t feel too good when were short-handed on a 4-on-3. But the kids prevailed,” Varga said.
But St. Francis had two short-handed shots and allowed two BG shots. Coward stopped Bergeron’s quality chance with 6:07 left in the OT.
Coward said he couldn’t explain the elation he had when he saw Mitchell score the winner.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Coward said. “We’ve been working for this all year, and now we’ll see what we can do down there.”
BG’s top line of Bergeron, Furnas, and Blake Powers double-shifted the entire game.
“They are an ultimate competitive group, and they were out there most of the night battling,” coach Powers said. “They have a lot to be proud of.”
Powers said Rich is the best goalie in the state.
“He led our team and got us to this point and he kept us in it,” Powers said.
Rich said the entire team played its hearts out.
“We wanted so bad to make it to state and to come so close like this and lose in the end is so tough,” Rich said.
St. Francis had beaten BG twice this season, 5-3 on Dec. 2 and 4-1 on Dec. 9. Warren Natyshak, the team’s senior captain, said the underclassmen picked the team up.
“Ben played unreal. He saved the game and so did Coward,” he said.
St. Francis’ Ben Mitchell reacts after scoring the game-winning goal in double overtime in a district final Friday against Bowling Green at Tam-O-Shanter in Sylvania. Mitchell scored all three of the Knights’ goals. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON
St. Francis players celebrate after defeating Bowling Green. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON