Howard knew what it was up against Wednesday night in the 4A state championship game. The mighty Severna Park Falcons entered the contest 18-1 on the season and winners of the last three state titles. They are considered the best public school team in Maryland and were heavily favored by any knowledgeable boys lacrosse fan to roll through the Lions.
Yet, there Howard was, the game tied, 6-6, in the fourth quarter at Paint Branch High School despite an inability to clear the ball the first half and losing 16 of the 19 faceoffs overall. It didn’t end in the Lions’ favor — Severna Park scored the final three goals to pull away and tie a state record by winning its ninth state title, 9-6, and become the first team since Hereford to win at least four straight state crowns — and while there are no moral victories for a program that has set a standard of excellence under coach Jimmy Creighton, they nearly pulled off a stunning upset.
“Our effort, our grit, our drive to win; that was never questioned with this group all year and I couldn’t be more proud of the effort, the energy, and again the grit,” said Creighton. “It’s a pretty good team on the other side and I don’t think anyone had them tied in the fourth quarter this year. That doesn’t get us the win but we’re right there at the end.
“That’s all we asked — to have a chance. We were right there, had a chance and just couldn’t answer their late run.”
Henry Frazier IV dragged Howard (13-6) to the intermission, scoring all three of its goals to keep the team within striking distance at 5-3. Offensive possessions, however, were few and far between, as getting the ball from the defensive end to the offensive end was a struggle through the first 24 minutes against the Falcons’ (19-1) 10-man ride.
“If we would have cleared it like we cleared it in the second half,” Creighton said, “maybe we’re having a different conversation.”
The second half, however, was a more even battle. Frazier IV scored his fourth goal early in the third quarter and freshman Nathan Boone’s strike tied the game at five and sparked a frenzy among the Lions’ faithful. Connor Panebianco, however, found his shooting stroke just in time for Severna Park and did what Frazier IV did for the Lions: carry them to the finish line.
Panebianco put the Falcons back in front with 25 seconds left in the third quarter, but yet again, Howard never wavered. Jeff Bruner’s goal evened the contest again at six-all with 8:50 remaining.
“Howard, they put up a real fight tonight,” Severna Park coach Dave Earl said. “I can’t say enough about how well-coached they are, how tough those kids are.”
The moment, though, was short-lived. Another clean faceoff win for Colin Shadowens led to Michael Harmeyer’s fourth goal of the game, which proved to be the game-winning tally and his 99th of the season. Panebianco did the rest, scoring the final two goals to put the game away.
“Obviously they are extremely efficient ball movers,” said Howard goalie Matt Hubbard, who made 13 saves. “The coaches had me practice that yesterday and I was having lot of trouble keeping up with it but I’m glad I was able to hang in there for the most part.”
The Lions’ defense kept their streak of not allowing any team to score double-digit goals against them this spring. Severna Park said they used a zone defense that caused problems right from the start.
“They really showed us something that we haven’t really seen before,” said Falcons senior attack James Maher, who had three assists. “It was really hard but we kept fighting, kept working hard and our discipline really showed.”
Creighton admitted there were some trying times this season due to injuries and inconsistency on the field. The goal of reaching the state final for the fourth time in six years and winning it for the first time since 2015 never changed, but it seemed like a long shot in mid-April.
The downs “were really low,” he said, but the resiliency of his team and their ability to stay the course played a major part in turning the season around and in their postseason run.
“We mentioned it earlier today. We were definitely unsure of where we were going and where we were going to end up and how we were going to bounce back from some losses and some injuries and things like that, but guys just stayed the course,” Creighton said. “We got some full buy-in, it seemed like, the last couple weeks and executed some game plans and played extremely hard, as you saw tonight.
“... We turned that corner, kept playing hard and kept believing in what we were doing and wanted to play Howard lacrosse.”
Severna Park (19-1) — 9, Howard (13-6) — 6
Goals: SP — Michael Harmeyer 4, Connor Panebianco 3, Kurt Klaus 1, Colin Shadowens 1; Ho — Henry Frazier IV 4, Nathan Boone 1, Jeff Bruner 1
Assists: SP — James Maher 3, Joseph Kilpatrick 1, Cameron Bear 1; Ho — Bruner 1, Ethan Mitchel 1
Saves: SP — Casey Fox 3; Ho — Matt Hubbard 13
Halftime: 5-3, Severna Park