All season, Fallston boys lacrosse has been a team defined by its high-octane energy.
The Cougars step onto the field with an unmatched moxie and are galvanized by creative bench celebrations, like players jousting or bench pressing after a goal, coordinated by junior Brody Fitzkee. Coach Pat Mull calls it the catalyst for their success.
The team’s passion reached its boiling point as the clock showed zeros Tuesday night. Players flooded the field in a frenzy. Helmets, pads and sticks covered Stevenson University’s Mustang Stadium, while the Cougars celebrated their second Class 1A state championship in three years, defeating Upper Chesapeake Bay Athletic Conference foe Perryville, 19-8.
Fallston has a saying that brings tangibility to their most prominent trait: “Bringing the juice.” A liter jug of orange juice sits on the sideline illustrating the point.
“Coach [Zach] Esser reiterates bringing the juice on the sideline and on the field,” senior midfielder Lucas Hurlburt said. “One guy on the sideline will hold it and just be electric on the sideline and bring all of it.”
Amidst the postgame frenzy, Hurlburt had the honor of dumping the likely spoiled orange juice over Esser. “He was definitely so angry,” Hurlburt quipped.
“Once we bring that juice, it’s over,” faceoff specialist Aiden Dixon said. “You see the crowd, you see our team and once that juice is up, it’s up. It won’t come down.”
Fallston rode that wave, ripping through playoff opponents like shrubbery. In five games to reach the mountain top, the Cougars’ closest matchup was a 10-5 win over Southern in the quarterfinals. They scored an average of 12.8 goals and gave up 5.6 in the playoffs. Not once did they fail to reach double-digit goals, and the eight Perryville scored was the most any playoff opponent mustered against them.
Tuesday was more of the same.
Fallston opened the game averaging roughly a goal a minute. Their first three came at the 11:24 mark, 10:36, then 9:46. One Fallston student bellowed from the sea of orange fans calling for Perryville to concede mere minutes after the opening draw.
He might have spoken too soon, considering the Panthers responded in short order with three straight goals of their own from seniors Luke Roberts, Evan Beynon and Vinnie Muscella.
“You don’t fake your way to a state championship,” Mull said of the early comeback. “That’s a good, solid opponent. They responded like champions do and we were fortunate to kind of withstand that early wave of pressure and respond with enough gusto to get the win.”
It was all Fallston from there.
Each 50-50 ground ball belonged to the eventual state champs. Aiden Dixon ran up his faceoff numbers, controlling 14 of 19, and found the top shelf for his lone goal in the third quarter. Even a double penalty against the Cougars that gifted Perryville a two-man advantage wasn’t enough of an opening to chip away at what was then a seven-goal difference.
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Nick Nikola paced the Cougars with five goals. Ian Swartzendruber and Quinn McLaughlin each added three, while Hurlburt and Greg Hoer contributed two each. Muscella and Roberts finished with three apiece for the Panthers.
Perryville’s goalie Dan Hickling, who finished with 10 saves, hauled in a rocket with 4:30 to go before halftime but had his ensuing pass batted down. Senior midfielder Quinn McLaughlin scooped up the rebound and finished at point-blank range — a microcosm of the one-sided victory.
“Even though we did have some teams of lesser competition than Harford County teams, I think their guys stepped up and played as if they were playing any hard team,” Perryville coach Doug Savick said. “We knew going in it was going to be hard. ... These guys fought so hard.”
Mull hasn’t taken much time to reflect on this season yet. He said that will come now that they crossed the finish line. But the success under his tutelage can’t be ignored.
Fallston was in this position a year ago, losing to Southern in the state final. The year before that, Mull’s first year at Fallston, the Cougars defeated Smithsburg for the 1A crown.
“Being a [Fallston] alum [graduating in 2009] and being from the area, I’d be remiss to say that there isn’t that pressure,” Mull said. “There is an expectation. These guys can attest to it, when I first took over that was one of the first things I mentioned to them. There is a tradition. There is a standard. It’s our responsibility to uphold that standard.
“With the leadership of these guys, we’re fortunate enough to have had some success these past couple years. And hopefully, success breads more.”