WESTTOWN - Nolan Little just had to smile.
The junior member of the Downingtown East High School boys lacrosse team couldn't help it. As he put it, head coach Todd Cliggett was busting his chops during his post-game interview.
Little asked for Cliggett's interview next, before the other players had their turn. After his performance on Thursday night, Cliggett couldn't refuse.
That was the least he could do.
Little scored the game-winner with 18.4 seconds remaining in leading Downingtown East to a huge 6-5 victory over West Chester Rustin in a crucial Ches-Mont League game.
The win kept Downingtown East (3-1 league, 5-2 overall) one game behind Avon Grove, Bishop Shanahan and West Chester Henderson for first place in the league.
Once Little started smiling for his accomplishments instead of at his coach, he was ready to praise his teammates who helped set up his heroics.
"I was just happy I was in the right place at the right time,' Little said. "Give credit to Meek (Kevin Meakim) on that pass. That was a nice heads up play.'
After a misfired shot, Meakim was able to pick up the rebound and run behind the net. There he found Little, who fired a shot from the right wing past Kyle Mullin to give the Cougars the lead for good.
"We were down, had to change it around and somehow had to pick up momentum,' said Ian Riehl. "A game like this is really going to help us down the road.'
Rustin (2-3, 5-5) gave the Cougars all they could handle from start to finish in this one. Using excellent ball possession in the first half, the Golden Knights took a 3-1 lead into halftime.
Downingtown East was not prepared for that result after 24 minutes.
"They had very long possessions in that first half,' said Downingtown East's Kyle Tucker. "It never gave our offense our full time to set up. We knew we had to play better.'
Pat Miller started the East comeback with a goal just 31 seconds into the third quarter to make it 3-2. Meakim followed with the equalizer at the 9:37 mark to tie the game 3-3.
Just 37 seconds later, the Cougars controlled the game for the first time. Will Umberger blasted a shot past Mullin to give East a 4-3 lead.
"The kids just needed to value every possession and capitalize every time they were in front of the net,' Cliggett said. "They picked it up, played hard and got the transition going. That's what we needed to get back in the game.'
As Rustin has proved throughout the first half of the season, the Golden Knights weren't going down quietly. Not with R.J. Zoba, the league's second leading scorer, at attack.
After Rustin failed to score on a two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, Zoba was found in transition and scored his first goal of the night to tie it 4-4 with 6:31 left.
A minute later, Riehl blasted a shot past Mullin as East regained the lead with five minutes to play.
Zoba wasn't going to be denied a chance to tie it. His second of the night and 26th of the year tied the game 5-5 with 4:55 left.
After Zoba's goal, both teams just tried to set themselves up for the final shot. East won that battle and Little eventually won them the war.
Cameron West and Karl Sauer were the other goal scorers for Rustin, which dropped its second straight after a 5-3 start.
Riehl lead Downingtown East with two goals.
Eric Dunion loves the Golden Knights' ability to fight back in close games and the captain didn't hold back on his team's improvement after the tough loss.
"We've always been the underdog so coming back is what we live for,' Dunion said. "We came out ready to play. We're up and coming and other teams have to watch out. We're going places.'
Downingtown East saw the progress Rustin has made. The Cougars couldn't ignore it after a hard-fought victory over a team once stuck at the bottom of the league standings.
"That's a real good team, just like this league,' Little said. "Give credit to them. They held us down for most of that game. They're pretty good.'
Downingtown East 6
W.C. Rustin 5
Downingtown East 2 1 0 2—5
W.C. Rustin 0 1 3 2—6
Downingtown East goals: Riehl 2, Miller, Meakim, Umberger, Little.
W.C. Rustin goals: Zoba 3, West, Sauer.
Goalie saves: Marx (DE) 4; Wilson (DE) 6; Mullin (WCR) 10.