Overlooked by preseason prognosticators, North County's boys lacrosse team felt it had something to prove in yesterday's early season showdown with South River.
Although the Knights only won by one, 4-3,they did so in a very big way -- defensively.
Not only was South River (4-1) held well below it's 12-goal average, but its top two scorers -- Brian McElhenny (13 goals, four assists) and Matt Czoka (12 goals, 13 assists) -- were largely silenced.
Czoka, who scored 32 goals for the Seahawks last year, was shut out completely, while McElhenny was shadowed by Knights defender Joe Rossand limited to only one goal.
McElhenny's goal tied the game, 3-3, with 3 minutes, 42 seconds remaining. But eight seconds later, North County's Bob Wolfe (10 goals, four assists) scored the game-winner,despite his team's being a man down.
The team survived five fourth-quarter penalties, each of which left it short a player.
"I was really happy because I think we deserve respect and I don't think enough teams respect us," said Wolfe, who fired in his winning goal -- his third of the game -- while falling to the ground. The shot hit keeper Mike Doherty's stick before traveling into the right side of the net.
Doherty finished with 13 saves.
"Skill-wise, there was no difference in the teams, but the bottom line was that they plain out-hustled us," 14-year South River coach Greg Carroll said.
Carroll's Seahawks were coming off a 17-3 demolition of QueenAnne's, a game that included a three-goal, four-assist effort from Czoka. South Riverhad outscoredits opponents, 56-10.
"Any time you hold South Riverto less than five goals, you've gotto be pleased and should win," North County coach Paul Shea said.
If North County keeper TimMcGeeney (12 saves) wasn't frustrating the Seahawks, the physical defense ofRoss, Karl Wick, Jim Ray and Shawn Moyer certainly was.
"We knew how powerful their offense was and how many goals they were scoring in a game, but we put our hearts on the line," Moyer said.
The gamewas so intense that South River's Chris Messineo -- who assisted teammate Jake Cameron to give the Seahawks a 1-0 lead at 2:11 in the first quarter -- suffered an inch-long gash on his chin midway through the fourth period.
He returned with just over three minutes left after receiving a bandage on the cut.
The Knights (6-0 overall, 1-0 in the 4A league) lost eight of the 12 face-offs, but collected 56 ground balls, compared with 38 for the Seahawks.
North County held a2-1 lead after the first quarter, scooping 15 ground balls, comparedto nine for the Seahawks.
The Knights scored 40 seconds after Cameron's opening goal when Doherty dropped the ball while starting a play 12 yards out on the right. Wolfe scooped it up and beat the defense in a foot race to the unprotected goal to score. He later fed Troy Fulwiler with 4:02 left in the period for the go-ahead goal.
From then on, the North County defense jostled any South River attacker who dared an offensive. The Seahawks could not score on a man-up penalty late in the period.
But South River held its ground against its own man-down situation, when Doherty was called for slashing with twominutes left in the half.
The two teams went scoreless for the first 5:21 of the second period until South River's Troy Smith sprintedthrough the Knights' midfield and into the heart of the defense. He then fed Adam Keller for the tying goal, his 11th this year.
"I thought it was a great game played by both sides," North County's Shea said.
"I don't think either team should be ashamed. Both teams hustled hard, played very hard.
"We just happened to score one more goal today."