PROVIDENCE — What happens when one of the nation’s stingiest teams finds its goal-scoring touch?
How about just a second NCAA Tournament victory for Air Force in program history, as the Falcons turned on the offense in Friday’s East Regional nightcap at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center.
Tyler Ledford’s goal at 6:45 of the third period stood as the game winner and Kyle Haak netted a pair as Air Force shot down Western Michigan, 5-4, in what developed into a thriller.
The third-seeded Falcons and their top-5 national defense looked to be cruising to the finish line after Phil Boje ripped home a power-play goal at 3:58 of the third, giving his club a seemingly comfortable 4-1 lead. Air Force entered 20-2-2 when scoring first, 21-1-3 when scoring three goals or more and 14-0-1 when scoring four goals or more – coach Frank Serratore liked his odds at that point.
“Since the playoffs have started we’ve been playing with the lead,” Serratore said. “We haven’t had to chase the scoreboard.”
Western Michigan (22-13-5) threatened to buck all of those trends with a pair of goals just 23 seconds apart, cutting its deficit to 4-3. Griffen Molino banged home a rebound from the slot at 4:48 and Sheldon Dries finished a soft pass across from Matheson Iacopelli in the left circle at 5:11, bringing the game back to life in an instant.
“Things got a little hectic,” Air Force forward Jordan Himley said. “Our leadership there, they calmed us down.”
The second-seeded Broncos’ renewed hopes lasted less than two minutes, as the Falcons (27-9-5) broke loose on a 2-on-1 they finished off nicely. Ledford took A.J. Reid’s pass off the right wing and made no mistake, jamming a shot past Ben Blacker to give Air Force a third two-goal lead of the night.
“It looked like we ended up needing that goal,” Serratore said. “Being able to answer there was huge.”
Western Michigan wasn’t done just…