When Coach Paul Shea's North County squad hits the UMBC stadium field for Saturday's Class 4A/3A boys state lacrosse final against Dulaney, his Knights will try to accomplish what hasn't been done in 36 games.
The two-time defending state champion Lions (12-0) have not lost since being beaten by Arundel in the finals of the 1988 region-state tournament. In 12 seasons, Coach Gary Schreiber has won five titles -- the Lions hammered Annapolis, 17-5, for last year's title -- andwill be looking to do the same to the Knights.
But Shea is no stranger to obstacles.
In fact, the bigger the obstacles have been for No. 3 North County (15-1) this year, the harder they have fallen to its strong defense -- which yields just 3.2 goals per game -- and what Shea calls "a peck-away offense."
North County's sole loss came against Arundel, 5-4, with the Knights lackingtwo of their best midfielders due to injury.
And after sharing the regular-season county title with Annapolis (North County won the regular-season meeting, 7-3), the Knights had to do it again to get where they are. Last Friday, the Knights had to beat No. 7 Broadneck, 5-4, for the second time this year.
The Knights are indeed survivorsand Shea drove the point home Tuesday night as he stood on the Annapolis stadium field moments after his squad's 7-6 regional semifinal victory over the Panthers.
"We had the toughest side of the bracketand we faced the toughest teams getting there, and we got through without a scratch. Looking at the balance of our 4A league at the beginning, everybody thinks yeah, we have an opportunity to do it," said Shea, who coached Andover to a Class 1A/2A runner-up finish to North Harford last year.
"But when you look at the Severna Parks, the Broadnecks, the Annapolis' and the Arundels, it was without a question achore. To repeat, to go back there two years in a row is an honor."
Against Annapolis, the Knights endured a bludgeoning style of playand remained composed after trailing, 3-0, in the first three minutes of the first quarter.
"I told the kids to keep their composure because we always have the ability to come back in it," said Shea. "Truthfully, my eyes were rolling in the back of my head when they pumped that third one in. They were so sky high for us that their feet weren't even on the ground when they came out."
Grounded, but not buried, the Knights got goals by James Meyer (23 goals, six assists) andAndy Mocarsky to bring them to 3-2 by the end of the first period and slowly lowered the Panthers back down to earth.
Meyer's second goal of the game tied it with under a minute gone in the second period. But Annapolis' Chris Turner gained the inside advantage on two defenders and beat goalie Tim McGeeney (seven saves) with a low shot for his third goal of the game and a 4-3 lead.
North County's leading scorer Bob Wolfe (30 goals, 12 assists) waited behind the Annapolis goal for his teammates to cut or clear out the defense before sneakingin for a dump shot that tied the game at 4 with 5 minutes, 40 seconds left in the half.
The Panthers' Mike Fraioli tallied to give hissquad a 5-4 lead at the half before the Knights' defense of Joe Ross(13 ground balls), Karl Wick, Jim Ray and Shawn Moyer and midfielderDae Sik Ham (10 ground balls) went to work.
North County shut outthe league's leading scorer in Dan Flynn (37 goals, 14 assists) justas it had in its regular-season victory over the Panthers. It also held the home team to 0-for-7 on extra-man attempts.
Then the Knights got their first lead on two third-quarter goals from Troy Fulwiler(19 goals, five assists), a former Brooklyn Park player who had not seen a high school regional championship game in any sport.
Meyer's shot ricocheted off the shoulder pads of Mocarsky and just under the stick of Annapolis goalie Chris Stauder (seven saves) to give the Knights a 7-5 lead before Annapolis' John Songey scored the Panthers' last goal with 3:43 left.
"I think this team has a lot of talent. We've got hard hitting and nice shooting," said Fulwiler. "We've put the two together. Patience is how we beat Annapolis and Broadneck twice and if we carry it all the way to the finals, we'll do very well."
Said Wolfe, "I was dissatisfied then because I don't think we played up to our ability and I'm just happy to have a second chance."