Mahwah entered its contest against Fair Lawn just one game over .500 through seven, yet perhaps also only a handful of plays away from being an undefeated team.
So, when they ended the first quarter trailing by one goal, the Thunderbirds found themselves a little surprised by their lack of production, but also pretty familiar with the scenario.
The difference here for Mahwah was that--unlike the three heartbreaking one-goal losses it has absorbed---it had both the motivation and the time to alter the trend.
Sophomore middie Alec Tzaneteas sank two of his career-high three goals in the second quarter and senior attackman Bob Collis contributed one goal and two assists to direct Mahwah to a 7-2 win over Fair Lawn in a Rizk Division matchup Tuesday afternoon at Sasso Field in Fair Lawn.
"Our season could have been completely different if we win those three games, unfortunate as it was," Collins said. The Thunderbirds lost their third one-goal affair last Friday, 12-11, to Montville and had opened the season with consecutive losses to Glen Rock and Sparta.
"It gave us a chance to all get mad and hyped up about it," Collins said. "We want to completely turn around the way we play in those kinds of games. We still can look forward to counties and states and try to make something happen there."
Mahwah improved to 5-3 behind Tzaneteas' surprise scoring outburst, Collins' heady field direction, strong defense all around and the solid faceoff work of John Peyton and Joe Noonan. Fair Lawn fell to 4-6 despite a brilliant showing in goal by senior Tyler Ashe with 15 saves.
Mahwah's first-quarter effort was certainly noble enough. The Thunderbirds forced seven turnovers off a combination of defense and the work of the riding unit to dominate possession time and make Ashe a very busy young man.
But Ashe clearly liked the job, turning away five shots, including one in close while in man-down. He turned the ball over to his offense and Kevin Osback delivered off a feed by Ryan Coles for a 1-0 Fair Lawn lead 2:46 into play.
"Tyler played incredibly well in the first half and I thought our defense did a good job for the most part," Fair Lawn coach Matt Biello said. "But we didn't take advantage of some early opportunities we had and we just didn't have the ball enough on offense in the second half."
The opportunities Mahwah had were more numerous than Fair Lawn's, and its squandering ways began to gnaw at head coach Ernie Yenco.
"They understood the importance of what was going on here, but that's not the way they came out," he said. "When you have the offensive opportunities we had today and you don't put the ball in the net…that's upsetting.
"I told them I wanted high shots on (Ashe), high corners, and you're not doing it right after I told you how to do it? I don't get that."
Mahwah finally reached the stubborn Ashe on its 14th shot of the game, when Tzaneteas cut through the box and was fed by Noonan with a tight cross from the right wing with 2:32 remaining in the first half. Tzaneteas buried a 14-yard shot from the left wing off a pass by Collins 1:28 later and Sean Feeney opened 3-1 advantage by converting a feed by Peyton with 18 seconds to go.
"We realized that we just needed to settle it down on offense," the Notre Dame-bound Collins said. He'd know to remedy such things, too, entering with 16 goals in the first seven games and having plunked down 33 as a junior.
"In the beginning we came out frantic," he said. "But once we settled it down, made the right plays, made the right cuts, the right one-on-ones, we were good to go. We definitely didn't play our best game; we played ugly. But a win is a win and we needed it."
The offense might have work to do toward improving, but the defense was definitely on spot. Steve Reuther, Mike Hogan, A.J. Coley and Jason Floyd worked cohesively in Mahwah's zone to limit Fair Lawn to 15 shots and help dominate the ground ball battle, 35-19.
"We've been playing a lot of zone lately and we feel comfortable with that," Reuther said. "We know we can still play man, too, but as long as this is working, we're confident with it."
Montville banged in 12 goals against Mahwah on Friday, though many came in transition and were not the full responsibility of the defense. No other team is yet to ring up double figures on the Thunderbirds.
Well, as suggested, Mahwah has played almost well enough to be undefeated and at the top of the Rizk standings, instead of looking up at undefeated Glen Rock and once-beaten Montville.
"Those losses were tough to take, but we're still fighting for that spot in the counties and states, so we keep working hard," Reuther said. "We got off to bad starts in some of those games. That's what hurt us a lot. We realize now we have to come out stronger from the start."
Floyd turned Mahwah's gritty defense into offense when he gathered a ground ball off a strong check just outside the defending box, legged out a clear and scored on a running bouncer 2:57 into the third quarter for a 4-1 lead. Noonan followed 2:09 later with a left-handed zinger from 16 yards away and Tzaneteas cranked in his third goal off another pass by Collins with 2:46 left for a 6-1 lead.
"We would have loved to win those close games, but maybe it was a good thing for us," Collins said. "Maybe it ticked us all off and made us really want to win counties even more than before. Now it's what we have to focus on instead of the league. We have to get mad about it and use it for fuel for the rest of our games."
Mike Kinney covers boys lacrosse for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeKinneyHS