DURHAM — The magic that carried the Northwood boys lacrosse team during its run in the state playoffs was something to behold.
The Chargers entered the 1A/2A/3A tournament as the No. 7 seed in the east region, but the road forward was anything but simple. After dominating Seaforth in the second round, Northwood used some late-game heroics to knock off No. 2 Croatan, 5-4, on the road in the third and earned revenge over Orange — who knocked off the Chargers twice in the regular season — by winning 10-8 over the top-seeded Panthers in the tournament semis this past week.
The clock struck midnight, however, in Saturday's state championship game at Durham County Memorial Stadium. Facing a talented Lake Norman Charter team, Northwood fell into an early hole and could never recover. At the final whistle, the scoreboard read 19-8 in favor of the Knights.
Lake Norman (17-5) came into the state playoffs as the No. 1 seed in the 1A/2A/3A west. The Knights' top offensive weapon entering Saturday's game was junior Jake Dalton, who had 63 goals and 86 assists through his team's first 21 games. Dalton opened Saturday's state final on fire, netting a hat trick in the game's opening four minutes to help Lake Norman jump out to a 3-0 lead.
The Knights built a 7-0 lead before Northwood scored its first goal courtesy of senior Taylor Laberge at the end of the first quarter. The second period was a better contest, but Lake Norman still managed to outscore the Chargers (18-4), 4-2, and entered the halftime break with a commanding 11-3 lead.
Lake Norman controlled the pace of play for most of the day. The Knights were a force in front of net, making timely cuts to find open space and fire shots at the Northwood cage. On the defensive end, Lake Norman's constant ball-pressure led to many unforced errors by the Chargers, who turned the ball over early, often and — sometimes — behind their own net.
The final two quarters showcased more of the same. The Knights jumped out to a 4-1 run to start the third thanks in part to two goals by Dalton.
This offseason will be one of transition for Northwood. The Chargers will graduate 11 seniors in total, including their top three scorers — Laberge, Will Smith and Jason Walden — and impactful midfielders/defenders William Johnson and Taylor Zelhoff.
Northwood's top returner in terms of goals next spring will be Carson Fortunes, who totaled 41 as a junior in 2023. On the back end, freshman James Flanagan will return in the cage after racking up over 100 saves in his first season of varsity lacrosse.
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