In the span of 10 days the boys basketball teams from Notre Dame-Fairfield and Bunnell have brought out the best in each other, producing a pair of hardwood classics where in each case the winning points came with three seconds left.
Tuesday night it was the Bulldogs' turn to snatch an improbable last-second victory, rallying from a seven-point deficit in the final 90 seconds to win 67-65 on Ryan Pittman's reverse lay-up with 3.6 seconds remaining.
When the teams met on Jan. 19 in Fairfield, Pittman had a chance to win it at the buzzer after the Lancers had gone ahead 73-72 on a pair of free throws by Jaylen Jennings with 3.7 seconds left.
Instead his 3-point attempt hit the back rim and went out, allowing the Lancers to celebrate pulling one out of the fire as they'd trailed by a point with the Bulldogs inbounding the ball and only five seconds remaining.
"I was thinking about (the miss) the whole week," said Pittman, who finished with 15 points. "To be honest I thought (the layup) was going to rattle out."
It didn't, and as soon as the final seconds expired the large Bunnell student section swarmed Pittman and the rest of the Bulldogs.
"They're our second rival after Stratford High," Pittman said. "We'll probably see them in the SWC (playoffs)."
Notre Dame (9-5) looked on its way to a road win after Kevin Laing's 3-point play put it ahead 63-56 with under two minutes left. From there the Lancers got sloppy with the ball, turning it over on three straight possessions -- allowing the Bulldogs to tie it in the span of 15 seconds.
Issac Vann stole a ball at midcourt and powered all the way to the rim with a smooth finish. Bunnell (12-2) then picked off the ensuing inbound pass, finding Matt Nolting for a 3-point play. Vann (19 points) capped the comeback with another steal and silky finish, tying the score at 63-63 with 1:16 left.
"I've been here for seven years and that never happened to me, where we imploded like that," Lancers coach Vin Laczkoski said. "A couple guys didn't handle the ball properly. It's hard to get mad. If you've been on the court when it's packed, you know what I mean."
Until the fourth quarter Notre Dame had done a good job holding Nolting and Vann -- each averaging over 21 points -- in check. Nolting scored 10 of his 18 points in the last five minutes.
Following a miss by Danny Upchurch (16 points), Bunnell took its first lead since the second quarter on lay up by Nolting. Laing answered on the other end to tie it at 65 with 15 seconds left.
It left it in the hands of Pittman. He dribbled, saw nobody was open and cut around his defender and under the right side of the rim, spinning in the air to finish on the opposite side.
"We had three looks," Bunnell coach Pat Yerina said. "We're looking at Matt, we're looking at Issac, or Ryan to turn the corner and you could see it opened up."
The chance to win the game barely registered with Pittman until it was over.
"It was just adrenaline," he said. "The play wasn't designed for me. Coach told me to go if it was open and I made it."
Sophomore C.J. Davidson scored a career-high 17 points to pace Notre Dame.
Both teams figure to finish among the top four seeds in next month's SWC playoffs, making a rubber match to finish off the trilogy a distinct possibly.
Coincidentially, the SWC championship also is e at Bunnell on Feb. 28.
"It balances out," Laczkoski said. "We stole the last one, they stole this one."
Dan Upchurch 5 3-4 16 CJ Davidson 7 1-2 17 Earl Coleman 2 3-4 7 Kevin Laing 4 2-3 10 Jaylen Jennings 2 2-2 6 Jesse McIntosh 1 2-2 4 Jake Heaton 2 0-0 5 Totals: 23 13-17 65
ND-FAIRFIELD 18 14 17 16--65
BUNNELL 16 18 8 25--67
3-pointers: ND--Upchurch 3, Davidson 2, Heaton; B--Pittman, Nolting 2, White
Fouled out: ND--Jennings; B--Joseph