Anne Arundel Community College coach Bud Beardmore said that there have been times during the past few years when he felt his lacrosse team didn't deserve to be on the same field with Essex Community College.
Until last month, in fact, the Pioneers hadn't beaten the Knights in nearly nine years.
But as yesterday's National Junior College Athletic Association Region XX championship game at Catonsville Community College proved, nothing is forever.
Attackman Steven Phipps scored the last of his five goals with 38 seconds left to give the Pioneers a 13-12 victory over the Knights for their first regional title since 1985.
The win broke Essex's string of eight straight regional championships and sends Anne Arundel (13-2) into next weekend's NJCAA National Tournament -- ironically at Seigert Field on the campus of AACC.
Beardmore said that all it took was a little confidence.
"I think the main thing we learned [from a 16-14 regular-season victory over the Knights] was that we can play with Essex," he said. "For five or six years, we didn't even think we could step on the same field with them."
If there were any lingering questions about that, Anne Arundel put them to rest in the first minute of the game when Jamison Miller (Severna Park) and David Livingston (Severna Park) scored.
But this one wouldn't be easy.
The teams traded goals for the entire first half, and it took two power-play goals by Livingston -- who finished with three goals and four assists -- to give AACC a 7-5 lead after
With the Pioneers leading, 10-6, late in the fourth quarter, the Knights (9-5) made their move, scoring five goals -- including three straight by attackman Jason Dobson (game-high eight goals) -- in the next five minutes to take an 11-10 lead with 1:53 left.
Essex held its lead for just 14 seconds, as Anne Arundel's Miller tied the game off a pass from Craig McKenzie with 1:39 left.
McKenzie pushed the Pioneers ahead with a goal at 1:11, but Essex tied the game 26 seconds later on Dobon's goal off a pass form Scott Joyner.
Seven seconds later, Phipps scored the game-winner on a fast break off the draw.
"My man slipped off to [Jamison] Miller, and it just became a one-on-one," said Phipps, a sophomore out of Oakland Mills, who admitted he thought the game was lost. "It's a game of streaks, and honestly I thought they would take it."
For the Knights, losing their stronghold on the regional championship was made somewhat more tolerable by the comeback.
"Our kids hung in there," said Essex coach Tim Puls, whose team outshot the Pioneers, 46-37, yet held the lead for only 3:15. "We did a nice job coming back, but they did a great job in team defense."
Anne Arundel is now two victories away from a national championship. Considering that the four-team tournament will be played on their home field the Pioneers are excited about the prospects.
"We haven't lost there yet," said Phipps. "All we have to do is go out and knock a team off and we're there."