As the last of a row of smiling Mt. Hebron boys lacrosse players stepped on their bus after defeating Hereford, 7-6, in the 3A/2A state semifinals Friday night, the chant grew louder.
"Why not us?! Why not us?! Why not us?!," they yelled through the open windows as fans and parents streamed by.
The Vikings haven't been the most consistent team this season, but at Annapolis High School against the state's premier public school program, they announced their own resurgence as a program by earning a berth in the state championship game for the first time since winning it all in 2006.
They will face either Northern-Calvert or Linganore in the state championship game at Stevenson University Tuesday or Wednesday.
"People wrote us off a few weeks ago," said Mt. Hebron coach Mike McCarthy. "We hung tough and grinded it out and this is the Mt. Hebron we've been waiting to see all year. We knew we had it; it was if we could mentally put it together and believe in ourselves. We've figured a few things out along the way and it's working."
"We've had a rough year, but everyone is hungry now," said Vikings goalie Casey DuBois (11 saves), noting a three-game losing streak in late April. "We're hungry for a state championship."
Much like its regional championship shutout victory over River Hill on Wednesday, Mt. Hebron (13-4) played relentless zone defense and challenged the Bulls to take outside shots. DuBois was up for the contest, although his biggest contribution in the game was arguably what he did in the final seconds of the third quarter.
With about 10 seconds remaining on the clock, DuBois picked off a pass and hurled the ball from his own crease toward Hereford goalie Austin Williams. Seniors Dylan Scheeler (hat trick) and Kyle Sutton (1 goal) sprinted toward goal and Scheeler managed to tip the ball into the back of the net to give the Vikings a 6-5 lead with 3.2 seconds showing on the clock.
McCarthy said that was a play they put in earlier in the day for that exact situation at the end of a quarter.
"I didn't honestly think I was going to shoot because I was really just trying to get the clear after I picked it off, but I looked up and saw eight seconds left," said DuBois, who scored a goal against Severna Park on April 6 on a similar play at the end of the game. "I just bombed it like I did against Severna Park and it went in."
Mt. Hebron senior Bryce Brookhart scored the eventual game-winning goal with 8 minutes, 15 seconds left in the fourth as he took a clear down the right sideline and ripped an unattested right-handed shot into the net to make it 7-5.
Hereford (16-2), which had its chances and outshot the Vikings in the game 33 to 23, cut the deficit to one with 19.9 seconds remaining on a goal by Roby Flynn, and then Joey Chestnutt (11/17 on draws) won the ensuing face-off cleanly to give the Bulls one final chance. A Vikings defender forced a turnover and cleared the ball, and with 3.3 seconds left Hereford couldn't get the ball from its own end back into the zone for another shot.
"We didn't finish. We got every look we wanted. We got a 1,000 looks and hit three crossbars, two posts, three wide-open shots missed. We shot ourselves in the foot finishing," said Bulls coach Sal Picataggi. "... We walked off the field proud with our heads high. We know we could've played better but that's just how it goes. That's sports. That's what happens."
Both teams traded the first four goals of the game in the opening quarter, but the pace slowed down in the next two stanzas. Flynn netted his first of the game with 8:41 left in the half to put the Bulls up 3-2, which would remain the score until early in the third quarter.
Scheeler and Scott Mackrell scored goals 26 seconds apart to give Mt. Hebron a 4-3 lead, but Hereford battled back and buried the next two goals to take a 5-4 advantage.
Senior Kyle Sutton tied the game with 2:32 left in the third, as he raced toward the cage, avoided the crease and put away a backhanded shot.
After DuBois' heave and Brookhart's goal gave the Vikings a 7-5 lead, McCarthy said it played right into what his team does best – play defense while the opponent presses for goals.
"If we get up by two or three goals we're hard to beat because it takes them out of their game," he said. "I could see them doing that in the fourth quarter."
Hereford was looking to advance to the state championship game for the first time since 2014. Picataggi said he's confident that the Bulls, who beat C.M. Wright Wednesday to win its ninth straight regional title and won six straight state championships from 2008 to 2013, will get back to the top of that mountain soon.
"We'll be back. This is still a young team and they don't play young. We never use that as an excuse," he said. "We have a great senior class but we have 35 guys on the roster and 10 seniors. ... We'll be fine. Teams will always have to account for us."
For Mt. Hebron, the long, arduous journey back to the state title game has been a tough one. But now it's just one win away from earning the program's fifth state championship.
"It's awesome. It's a tremendous day. I'm happy for our kids," McCarthy said. "They've battled through a lot of adversity and even tonight things weren't going our way and then we caught a break. The kids just kept stepping up."
Mt. Hebron (13-4) – 7, Hereford (16-2) – 6
Goals: MH – Dylan Scheeler 3, Kyle Watts, Scott Mackrell, Kyle Sutton, Bryce Brookhart; H – JD Nozemack 2, Roby Flynn 2, Cole Quattrocche, Scott Middleton
Assists: MH – Watts 2, Matt Leone, Casey DuBois; H – Quattrocche, Nozemack
Saves: MH – Casey DuBois 11; H – Austin Williams 7
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Halftime: 3-2, Hereford