Even in it's most comfortable environment, the Severna Park girls soccer team found itself treading on unfamiliar ground Saturday afternoon.
The top-seeded Falcons trailed Oakland Mills, 1-0, early in the second half of the 4A-3A state final at Arundel High. It marked the first time all season that the two-time defending state champions were scored upon first.
Severna Park coach Joyce Stefancik was curious to see how her players, accustomed as they are to being at the head of any score, would react to second-class status.
"Maybe they decided,'We better put one in there,' " she said.
Better yet, make it two.
Seniors Emily Vandergrift and Michelle Cope scored less than three minutes apart, allowing the Falcons (16-0) to hold off their Howard County opponent, 2-1, to claim a third consecutive state title.
"If anything, I think they reacted in a positive way. It pumped them up," Stefancik said of the one-goal deficit. "The kids answered well."
Junior forward Danette Lemerise stuffed in a rebound of a shot off the crossbar by Kristen Miller to give Oakland Mills the lead just 2 minutes, 49 seconds into the second half.
The Scorpions (13-3) managed only one shot, which sailed harmlessly over the net, during the entire first half.
"When it hit the crossbar, I was turned, so I had to turn back around and find out where the ball was," Falcons keeper Tami Riley said of Miller's blast. "I noticed (Lemerise) had it, so I quickly tried to grab it, but it just went in."
Severna Park would answer at 5:10 when Vandergrift registered her third goal of the season -- a goal Stefancik called "the biggest of Emily's career."
Oakland Mills keeper Jenny Golding came sliding out of the net to jar the ball from Betsy Anderson. But Falcons' sophomore Stephanie Roberts was trailing and alertly passed to an open Vandergrift.
Golding didn't make the same daring move on a Cope breakaway, choosing instead to stay back after Anderson's pass along the right side. Cope, a senior forward who scored a goal in all four Severna Park playoff games, had ample time to set herself before drilling a shot barely inside the left post.
"I usually wait for the goalie to come out and then I kick it," Cope said, "but she didn't come out, so I just put it into the left corner."
Cope's goal assured Severna Park its 40th straight victory. The Falcons are unbeaten in their last 47 games.
"We were expecting them to come right back," said Scorpions midfielder Mia Dammen. "We figured once we scored, they would go even harder."
Riley said: "I wasn't really that concerned (about the deficit), because I knew we could do it. If we put our minds to it and put our heads in the game, we could do it."
And the speed with which they retaliated was an even greater boast.
"Everybody was like, 'Yeah, we want this now. Let's just take it.' " Riley said.
Anderson said: "I thought we could pull it out, but we had to give it everything we had."
And with good reason. Oakland Mills was minus two key players due to injuries -- senior Kim Gove and sophomore Tyann Blissett. But potent scorers Dammen and Stefanie Magro (14 goals, five assists) still remained a tough challenge.
Dammen, who had 11 goals and eight assists this year, forced Riley to make a diving save with four minutes left. She had missed wide left with two earlier attempts, and was largely responsible for Oakland Mills' final 16-12 advantage in shots.
"We didn't work hard enough for a goal at the end," Dammen said. "We shot too early, and the keeper was right there."
"I thought it was a good game, a well-played game," said Oakland Mills coach Cynthia O'Dell. "I'm really proud that my team was here. It was a nice game to watch."
And one that allowed the Severna Park seniors to end on a familiar note, even in the face of some unfamiliar circumstances.
"It's my senior year, my last year, and this clinches it," Riley said.
Anderson said, "Everyone keeps saying how Anne Arundel has no soccer, Anne Arundel can't play. We showed them what we have."