For about three quarters of last night's Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference semifinal, Loyola succeeded in forcing top-seeded St. Paul's to play at the deliberate tempo that the Dons wanted.
But that all changed in a wild seven minutes in the fourth quarter in which a total of 10 goals were scored and ended with the Crusaders leaving Johnny Unitas Stadium celebrating an 11-10 win and a berth in the conference finals.
Given a three-minute man advantage because of an illegal stick penalty early in the fourth quarter, St. Paul's scored three times. Then, after a stirring three-goal Loyola comeback, the Crusaders got the game-winning goal from senior Jason Donati with 4:39 to play.
The victory over the fourth-seeded Dons pushed St. Paul's (16-3) into Friday's 8 p.m. title game at Towson University opposite Gilman, an 8-5 winner over Boys' Latin in the first semifinal.
Loyola, which was hoping to avenge an 8-7 loss about two weeks ago, saw its season end at 12-4.
"This means more than I could say," said St. Paul's junior attackman Bart Wagner, who scored a game-high four goals and assisted on Donati's game- winner. "It's been a long time for St. Paul's to even be in the playoffs, so this is the greatest feeling ever."
Donati's goal was his third of the night, and it answered a three-goal run by the Dons that had seemingly rescued the momentum they lost after the illegal stick penalty.
The Dons led 6-5 at the end of the third quarter, but the referees ruled that the stick of Loyola faceoff specialist Teddy Melanson was illegal.
"That was huge for us," said Crusaders coach Mitch Whiteley. "If we have the ball, we're going to be able to score, and that allowed us to maintain the possession."
St. Paul's got goals from Stuart Thomas and Wagner, both assisted by Gavin Gill (four assists), to take a 7-6 lead. Dons senior attackman Ben Rubeor (three goals) scored a pretty goal to tie the game with his team short-handed, but the Crusaders answered with two goals from Wagner and one from Thomas to take a 10-7 lead.
"Any time you get a three-minute penalty, it's going to be a noticeable advantage for your opposition, but I thought we did a pretty good job minimizing the advantage," said Dons coach Jack Crawford.
Trailing by three with 6:48 to play, Loyola stormed back with goals from Rubeor, Andrew Baird and Pat Keeney to tie the game at 10 with 5:13 to play. But 34 seconds later, Donati ripped home the game-winner past St. Paul's senior goalie Matt Landsman.
"In the back of my head, I knew we were going to win this game," said Donati.