First-year Osbourn Park boys' lacrosse coach Rodney Cornell overhauled his team's playbook. He tinkered with his lineup. He installed new formations.
But, according to Cornell, his team's improbable 10-9 overtime victory over North Stafford in the Virginia AAA Northwestern Region quarterfinals Tuesday night was about much more than the changes he had made earlier in the season.
"We relied on what we have with our heart," Cornell said after the game, still drenched from a dousing with a Gatorade bucket. "That's the biggest thing. Our skills are good, our knowledge is decent, but we relied on our heart."
They had to. How else could the Yellow Jackets convince themselves that they could play with a team that beat them 14-0 in the regular season? How else could they come from behind time and again in a region quarterfinal that, on paper, seemed like little more than a formality?
"Heart," senior midfielder Tim Sedlak echoed. "And everyone told us we couldn't do it."
It was easy to see why. The Wolverines' April 7 shutout had "humiliated" Osbourn Park, according to Cornell. But it also led him to implement the aforementioned changes. And when the Yellow Jackets started winning, they started to believe they could beat North Stafford.
That belief was put to the test on numerous occasions Tuesday night. North Stafford (12-4) took a quick 2-0 lead, but Osbourn Park (15-1) tied the game at two by the end of the first quarter. The Wolverines went up 6-3 at the half, but Osbourn Park senior midfielder Josh Reed scored early in the third quarter.
The most trying moment for the Yellow Jackets came with less than five minutes to play in the third quarter. Down 7-4, Osbourn Park had what seemed to be a perfect opportunity to close the gap with a two-man advantage. A long throw by North Stafford goalkeeper Tim Cassi, however, led to a short-handed goal by the Wolverines and a seemingly commanding 8-4 lead.
But Osbourn Park would not back down. After a goal by Reed early in the fourth quarter, Sedlak scored a pair -- the second, with 2 minutes 47 seconds left, cut the Wolverines' lead to one. Eleven seconds later, North Stafford had pushed its lead back to two. But Matt Warner scored off a feed from David Farmer, and freshman Stephen Vu scored the goal that forced overtime with just nine seconds left.
Heart was apparent again in overtime when Sedlak out-fought several players to scoop up a ground ball following the faceoff. Moments later, he ended the game with a shot from 15 yards out.
"Maybe they took us lightly because they beat us 14-0 before," Sedlak said of the Wolverines. "Everyone underrated us this season, and we're proving them wrong."
Sedlak led the Jackets with four goals Tuesday night, and Vu and Reed had two apiece. Sophomore goalkeeper Chris Drago made 16 saves.
Osbourn Park will host a region semifinal tonight at 7 against Woodbridge.
The Yellow Jackets now have won 13 games in a row. Making their run even more astounding is that they graduated 18 seniors from last year's team, four of whom were All-Extra selections, including Player of the Year David Suthers.
"We had a bunch of no-name players this year, and we decided we were going to step up and take what we had and just run with it," Cornell said.