Inscribed on the back of Mitch Whiteley's T-shirt was an anonymous adage that boasted, "Unless you're the lead dog, the view never changes."
The view changed for Whiteley's top-ranked St. Paul's boys lacrosse team yesterday, as No. 2 Loyola withstood a late charge by the Crusaders and hung on to win, 13-12, in the Maryland Scholastic Association regular-season finale for both teams at Loyola.
The victory ended St. Paul's winning streak at 34 games, but more importantly, assured Loyola (14-3, 10-3) of a berth in next week's conference playoffs.
"I told my guys before the game that if this game gets away from us, what I'll look back on is not that we lost, but that I lost the opportunity to spend 10 more days with these guys and that's from my heart," said Loyola coach Joe McFadden, whose team edged No. 3 Gilman for the final playoff spot, despite the Greyhounds' 22-5 victory yesterday over Severn.
"The streak is a bogus item to me. We were playing because we wanted to be in the championship game and because I didn't want to walk away from these guys yet."
The Dons looked as though they would walk away with the victory as they opened a 3-0 lead in the first quarter after two consecutive unassisted goals from senior midfielder Bill Evans. Sophomore Brian Zeller scored first for the Dons when he found the net on a feed from Evans 4:24 into the game.
Senior Ben Strutt put the Crusaders on the board with 58 seconds left in the first quarter on an assist from senior Michael Watson. The Dons got four straight goals at the start of the second period.
Loyola senior Mike Keeney scored an unassisted goal 35 seconds into the second quarter. Junior attackman Jeff Huber ++ added an unassisted goal under a minute later, and goals by Charlie Brown and Jon Cusson gave the Dons a 7-1 lead with 3:37 remaining in the half.
The Crusaders cut the lead to four on goals by Watson and John Solter and had to settle for an 8-4 halftime deficit as Evans and Jamie Pollock (four goals) exchanged goals in the final seconds.
Evans' fourth unassisted goal of the game was all the scoring the Dons would get in the third quarter. It enabled the Crusaders to pull within 9-8 with one quarter remaining.
"I haven't beat those guys since my freshman year, so there were a lot of emotions out there," said Evans, who finished with a game-high four goals and two assists.
"I'm friends with a lot of their players, but it was do or die out there today. It was us or them."
Loyola, which fell to the Crusaders 9-8 earlier this season, got a goal at the start of the fourth quarter when Brian Zeller scooped up a loose ball near midfield and raced to the goal before one-hopping it past St. Paul's goalie Sean Keenan.
Fourth-quarter goals by Cusson, Scott Diggs and Keith Euker gave Loyola a 13-9 lead, but with 4:24 left, the Dons couldn't start celebrating.
"It was a war out there," Euker said. "My heart was in my throat in the fourth quarter."
St. Paul's, which only a week ago scored four goals in the final two minutes to defeat Severn, scored three goals in the final four minutes and had two opportunities in the final 19 seconds but failed to convert.
"We were flat, and that's really hard to believe in a game like this, but we've been going strong for a long time now," Whiteley said. "This game for us was really just for pride and you hope that would mean a little more than survival, but Loyola just needed it a little more."