GENESEO, N.Y. — It had been outplayed the entire third period, and badly at that, and the only reason the Colby College men’s hockey team wasn’t buried in an insurmountable hole was because of the big-save goaltending of senior Sean Lawrence.

So when the Mules gained control of the puck in their own zone with the score still 1-1 and about seven seconds to play in an NCAA Division III quarterfinal game against SUNY Geneseo, coach Blaise MacDonald immediately began to look ahead to overtime, thankful they were exiting the zone, thankful they had somehow survived an endless third-period Geneseo onslaught.

“What do we need to do to re-establish our game in overtime, that’s what I was thinking,” he said.

His players, however, had other ideas — like making sure overtime wasn’t necessary — as they attacked up the ice one last time in the period.

Freshman winger Justin Grillo gained control of Thomas Stahlhuth’s deflected shot in the high slot and fired it past Knights goalie Devin McDonald with a mere 1.6 seconds remaining to give Colby a shocking 2-1 victory.

“I was insanely lucky to be in the right place, right time,” Grillo said. “I remember looking up, looking at the clock as I was skating back to the bench and thinking how unreal this was.”

And so Colby’s magical dream season continues, and perhaps fittingly will conclude — win or lose — at the site of the Miracle on Ice. The Mules, who hadn’t reached the NCAA tournament since 1996 and had never won an NCAA game until this month, will play St. Norbert in the national semifinals Friday night at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, New York.

They’re having the times of their hockey-playing lives.

“You can’t buy this in aisle 5 at Target, that’s what we’ve been saying,” said freshman center Joe Schuler, who played his high school hockey about 45 miles north of Geneseo in the Rochester suburb of Webster. “We’ve been on the road for five weeks and have been huge underdogs.”

The underdog is loving it. At 17-10-2, Colby doesn’t have a record that shouts domination; the Mules simply got hot at the right time.

“We’re just trying to represent Colby hockey the best we can,” said Lawrence, who made 17 saves in the third period and 38 in the game. “Hopefully we can keep it going and keep promoting Colby hockey.”

Lawrence has had 30 or more saves in nine consecutive games.

They represented well on Saturday, that’s for sure, becoming the first team to win at SUNY Geneseo this season. The Knights (20-6-3) had been 12-0-1 at home before Saturday and had outscored opponents 63-13. When Grillo set up Stahlhuth for a goal 40 seconds into the second period, it was just the third time Geneseo had trailed on home ice all season.

But the Mules had gained a boost of confidence by playing a scoreless first period.

“We came into this building knowing how well they play here, how fast they start here, so our ability to get through that first period was critical to our success,” MacDonald said.

When they left the ice after the second period with the 1-0 lead, the Mules were even more confident.

But then came the Geneseo storm, starting with the first shift of the third period.

“We just got off to a really, really terrible start; probably the worst period and a half we played all year,” Geneseo coach Chris Schultz said. “Our guys knew what they had to do.”

By the 8:18 mark, the score was tied 1-1, as Arthur Gordon ripped a one-timer into the top right corner of the net from the right circle during a five-on-three power play.

“That kid has got an NHL shot,” Blaise MacDonald said.

From then on, the Knights were in control of nearly every shift. They outshot Colby 18-4 in the third period and seemed on the verge of victory with 4:56 to play, when winger Andrew Romano avoided a Lawrence poke check at the top of the crease and appeared ready to slam-dunk the go-ahead goal.

Except Lawrence refused to give up on the play. He kicked out his left leg and made a the fabulous game-saving save.

“I tried to poke-check him and he made a nice move to avoid it and then it was pure desperation at that point,” Lawrence said.

Romano acknowledged that while the save was terrific, had he lifted the puck the Knights would have been ahead.

“I have to elevate that shot,” Romano said. “He made a great save and it’s killing me. It’s going to kill me all summer.”

The winning goal came on what seemed like a harmless rush through the neutral zone. But Cam MacDonald had enough time to get the puck to Stahlhuth, who shot from the right circle. The puck was blocked but caromed directly to Grillo, who flicked a wrist shot that found the net and extended Colby’s season.

So much for spring break in Florida. The Mules are headed to the frozen shores of Mirror Lake in Lake Placid.

“That’s a new one,” Schuler said with a big smile.

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