Most lacrosse teams that win their first 11 games don't have to answer to the critics.
Then there's Severn School, which must defend itself at every turn.
With the early portion of their schedule dotted with over-matchedopponents -- including some from outside the state -- the Admirals brought an inflated record into their Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference opener with visiting St. Paul's on Friday.
Victories last week over 4A League heavyweights Annapolis and Broadneck certainly impressed, but the true test arrived the same time the Crusaders did.
Unfortunately, no conclusive answers were forthcoming.
Confronted with its stiffest challenge to date, Severn nearly overcame a 9-5 deficit before falling, 10-9.
The critics, at least for now, will continue to have their say.
"It's really disappointing," said junior attackman Jason Wade, who was sensational with four goals and two assists.
"We've been criticized some and we wanted to prove people wrong. Nobody seems to believe in us. They're saying we didn't play anybody that good."
Interim coach Peter Trau hears the same talk. Over and over.
"We're hearing, 'We don't play anybody. We playa cream-puff schedule,'" he said.
"We've got a young team and this is a murderous schedule. They're good lacrosse players and it's about time someone gave them the respect they deserve. But we've got to win some of these close games. We've got to earn it."
They would have, if not for a crucial letdown in the second half that allowed St.Paul's (5-0) to score four unanswered goals and lead, 9-5, in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
Severn drew within one goal, 9-8, with under five minutes remaining, but St. Paul's Tim Whiteley circled around the net -- and a couple of defenders -- and scored with 1:45 left.
Just 15 seconds later, Admirals junior Milford Marchantdrifted to his right and fired a shot past Crusader keeper Tom Keratzes, reducing the lead to 10-9 and setting up a dramatic finish.
St. Paul's Jeremy Bryant was called for a slash with 54 seconds left, leaving the visitors a man down for only the second time. Severn senior midfielder Spencer Reckner took a pass directly in front of the net and unleashed a low liner from about nine yards out that was stopped by Keratzes (10 saves).
Marchant, who scored Severn's last two goals, was whistled for a slash at the other end, and St. Paul's ran off the remaining 16 seconds.
"That's the shot we wanted and the guy we wanted taking it," Trau said of Reckner's attempt. "He gets the ball and takes a good, hard bounce shot, and it hits the goalie. Those are the breaks of the game. But we probably shouldn't have put ourselves in that position, to be down and having to play from behind."
Severn took a 1-0 lead in the first 46 seconds when Wade converteda pass from sophomore Dudley Dixon (two goals, one assist). But St.Paul's answered, as it would each time the Admirals went in front.
Severn had leads of 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3, but the Crusaders netted the last two goals of the opening half on shots from Michael Watson and Kyle Durkee.
Watson finished with three goals, and Durkee added twogoals and one assist.
Senior Matt Long pulled the Admirals even with 27 seconds gone in the third quarter off a pass from Wade. But St. Paul's went on its 4-0 run and never relinquished the lead.
"We let them get back in it. I thought we were controlling the tempo early on and I was very upset we let them back in the game," Trau said.
"Offensively, we've got to start hitting the cage more. We took a good number of shots and had some good ones, but our attack kept trying to blow it through the goalie instead of faking high and shooting low. That's just fundamentals. We've got to execute a little better."
They did after a slashing call on Marchant and a holding penalty on Graydon Ripley left St. Paul's with a two-man advantage in the second quarter.
Thanks to a pair of alert stops by junior keeper CourtKurling (17 saves), and some nice defense overall, the Admirals weathered the storm and remained in a 3-3 tie.
But later would come the "mid-game letdown" that Trau has seen before.
"Even though we were 11-0, we haven't been able to put together the four quarters that we're looking for," he said.
"When we do, I pity the team that's playing us."