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Heartbreak in Repeat; Northern falls in state championship second year straight

Burtonsville, MD – A year ago, Northern reached the state championship, looking to repeat as the best team in the state only to be dominated by Westminster. In their third straight state title appearance, it was the Patriots’ turn to play spoiler in the Owls’ repeat bid.

Westminster took the lead early, scoring three straight goals in what looked to be history repeating itself. In 2018 at Stevenson University, the Owls jumped out to a four-point lead and never looked back, steamrolling the Patriots 12-8. With the pressure on, Northern Head Coach Joe Casalino was calm; he knew this wasn’t the same situation the team found themselves in a year ago. “Last year we fell down to them 4-0 early and we really struggled to get a footing. This year I felt like the play was much more even at 3-0 and it was just a matter of us getting some opportunities to fall.”

Fall they did, Northern clawed their way back into the game, cutting the lead to a single score four times before the end of the first half but were unable to take the lead. Though they went down 4-6 at the end of the second, Northern had done one thing, asserted that this year was different.

“They had a lot of fight and talent and they weren’t going to quit on us, said Westminster Head Coach Steve DeFeo after the game. He added that he felt confident Northern had the motivation to return to the championship game after the defeat last year. “They played really hard, like they wanted to be champions today as well.”

The third quarter resulted in a stalemate, every time Westminster stretched the lead to three or Northern cut the game to one there was an answer. The two teams left the quarter where they started, with a two-goal difference at 6-8.

The Patriots’ began the quarter with a bang, energizing the bench and stands by scoring on their first possession. Even with the electric start, Northern’s offense fell silent most of the quarter and it was the Patriots’ defense who stepped up, giving the young offense a chance to close the gap. Westminster had three extra man opportunities in the final quarter but were only able to convert one. Play from Senior Carson Vaeth and Junior Goalie Alex Sheehan highlighted the staunch, late game, defense.

With three minutes left in the quarter and a two-goal game maintained by the defense, Junior Middie John Sulier found Freshman Attackman Coy Mills on the doorstep, cutting the lead to 8-9. Mills paid for the goal, receiving a cross-check but the freshman found the back of the net and got the penalty. A young team with only seven seniors and none on offense, Casalino knows the importance of momentum that feeds a youthful squad. “Sometimes you need positive things to happen to gain some confidence.”

Coy got two more shots at scoring the equalizer, once at the two-minute mark and again with only 18-seconds left. With the ball behind the net, the freshman squeezed between the crease and his defender, missing the shot but forcing a penalty by Westminster. The 30 second penalty put the Owls down a man the rest of the game and gave the Patriots an prime opportunity to score.

The player the team turned to was Junior Middie J.P. Gross who sent a rocket towards the cage with less than ten seconds left in the game. Westminster Goalie Logan Covey was late reacting to the high shot but let out a sigh of relief when he heard that all too familiar ding. “That pipe is the goalie’s best friend,” stated Covey after the game. The shot bounced all the way to the top of the box, was gathered by Northern, and returned to Gross who sent his second shot high. With only two seconds on the clock, the Owls knocked down a desperation pass from the Patriots and launched their equipment into the air as state champs again.

“When you get two good teams of equal effort and talent, those one goal games can go either way,” said Casalino whose young team has a chance to return to the final a fourth time in 2020. The group returns 25 players, including all four goal scorers from the game. Coy finished with two goals accompanied by an assist and his fellow attackman, Junior Zach DeToto, had a team high three goals.

The Patriots finished out the season 18-2, winning their fourth straight 3A South Region title and tenth straight SMAC Championship.

Contact Jerold at staffwriter@thebaynet.com.

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