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Chris Gray beats the buzzer to deliver first ever Atlas win over Whipsnakes

In the highly anticipated game of the week, we saw the Whipsnakes take on the Atlas on a beautiful afternoon in Charlotte. Both teams entered the season with high expectations, yet they each found themselves looking to record their first win of the season. The Whips were in a spot they’ve never been before, winless after week one with their loss total already matching that from a year ago. On the other side of the field, the Atlas were hoping to be in a spot they’ve never been before as well, with the franchise’s first ever win against the Whipsnakes. Zed Williams was back in the lineup for the Whips following his NLL finals run and notched two goals in his return. Matt Rambo looked much more aggressive after only having one shot last week, making multiple plays going to the goal as he finished with a team high four goals and an assist. For the Atlas, Jeff Teat paced the offense with three goals and two assists. The game would go on to be an intense and competitive battle that featured a lot of back and forth. As time wound down at the end, both teams had chances to convert but the defense and goalies held their own. With just 16 seconds left on the clock, it was Chris Gray delivering the late game heroics to give the Atlas a 12-11 win, Coach Mike Pressler his first PLL win and Atlas their first ever win over the Whipsnakes.

The beginning of the game lived up to the hype as fans saw the highest scoring quarter of the weekend. The scoring got kicked off just over three minutes in with Brendan Curry scoring off an inside feed from Jeff Teat. After the shot, Curry took a late hit which put the Atlas on the powerplay for a minute. On the ensuing possession, they cashed in off a pretty skip pass through the defense from Chris Gray that found Teat on the back pipe for the finish to go up 2-0. The Whips answered back on their first settled possession as Zed Williams made his return felt, barreling into Rexrode and shooting around him for his first goal of the season. After another Atlas goal from Costabile to make the score 3-1, Jim Stagnitta called a time out to get the regrouped. The timeout was just what they needed as the Whips regained momentum to score three straight, courtesy of Rambo, Manny, and another from Zed which was nearly an exact copy of his first. The Atlas would retake the lead shortly after with a lefty two on the run from Romar Dennis that had to feel good after shooting 0 for 8 last week. Just a minute later, rookie Tucker Dordevic answered right back with his first career two pointer with a high bouncer beating Concannon to take the lead once again. To close out the quarter, Jeff Teat beat his man topside and snuck one right over Bernlohr's head to even the score at six a piece with under 10 seconds on the clock.

Dordevic got on the board again to start the second quarter after dropping his defender with a rocker step and unleashing a powerful left-handed shot on the run to beat Concannon high. Matt Rambo followed up by slicing through the Atlas defense and finished inside to extend the lead back to two. With three minutes left in the second, Eric Law connected with Teat, who buried a low shot in front of the cage. On the following faceoff, Romar Dennis took out Petey LaSalla with a big hit and followed up with another on Grayson Sallade. The first on LaSalla appeared to be clean but the second maybe not as much. Officials called a cross check to the head which put the Whipsnakes on the powerplay for two minutes locked in. They wouldn’t waste their opportunity to extend the lead as a skip from Rambo found Dordevic for his third of the game. Once again, Atlas answered in the final seconds of the quarter when Teat found Costabile out of a timeout for a shot he placed perfectly in the top right corner, cutting the Whips lead to 9-8 going into the half.

After missing the last couple faceoffs of the second quarter, LaSalla showed his toughness and was back out at the X to start the second half. Even with LaSalla back, the Whips were unable to have any strong possessions as the Atlas scored the only three goals of the quarter.

Coach Mike Pressler attributed the third quarter run to their game last week. He went on postgame to say, “It was the same situation we were in last week down one at halftime. Last week we didn’t respond, this week it was a point of emphasis in the locker room and our guys listened and reacted.”

They got the reaction they needed as Brendan Curry got on the board again, getting topside from X and finding the back of the net to even the score at nine all. Minutes later, Eric Law capitalized off a loose ball and stuck it in the back of the net, giving them the lead. Curry would finish off the quarter with a right to left move and burying a shot in the bottom corner. The hat trick goal by Curry would give the Atlas an 11-9 lead headed into the final quarter.

Matt Rambo started off the fourth with two back-to-back remarkable effort plays. First, he stuck a backhand goal coming up the right side on Durkin. Two minutes later he followed it up with another impressive goal, spinning around the defender and put the ball in the net while falling to even up the game at eleven a piece. After a seven-minute scoring drought from either team, the Whips called a timeout with a minute remaining as they looked to draw up the final goal. Following the timeout, Tucker Dordevic swept towards the middle of the field and had a great look that forced Atlas goalie Jack Concannon to make a tough low save.

Concannon pushed the ball up the field following the save and the Atlas called their own timeout with just under 30 seconds on the clock. The Atlas wasted no time coming of the time out, moving the ball quickly to X and Chris Gray. After starting the day 0 for 9 shooting, Gray was able to get topside and finish with a righty jump shot with 16 seconds remaining. Needing to convert quickly off the faceoff, the Whips were unable to get a possession after a long scrum ending in a push, giving the ball to the Atlas to run out the clock.

For the Whipsnakes, this loss puts them in unfamiliar territory. After going 9-1 last summer, at 0-2 they’ve already surpassed their loss total from a year ago. Despite the loss and their record, both Coach Stagnitta and Matt Rambo still seemed confident going forward as both losses came by just a goal. Rambo added postgame, “We’re not holding our heads down, we’re fine. We’ve got a couple of things we have to do a little better, and obviously one goal games suck to lose but we’re right there.” The play of Tucker Dordevic continues to be a bright spot on offense so keep an eye on how they rebound as Zed gets more comfortable and Brad Smith is reinserted into the lineup. They’ll have another tall task in front of them next week as they’ll see the 2-0 Redwoods Saturday night in Columbus.

On the other hand, if you’re the Atlas, taking two defensemen at one and three in the draft looks better and better each week. Midway through the game, defensive coordinator Kevin Unterstein made a big adjustment moving the rookie Gavin Adler onto Zed Williams following his two early goals. Zed is one of the most physically imposing attackman in the league and to see the rookie hold his own was something special. When asked postgame what gave him the confidence to move a rookie on a player like Zed, Pressler went on to say, “There’s no body that has watch more film on this guy than I have. He’s played every type of player and I’ve seen him rise to the occasion every time.”

The Atlas have a quick turnaround as they’ll see the defending champion Waterdogs on Friday night. They’ll look to continue their defensive success against an offense who has yet to break 10 goals this season.


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