Throughout the season, the North Stafford High School lacrosse team relied on physical defense and a high-scoring attack to defeat its opponents. Thursday night, the Wolverines got beat at their own game.

Led by sophomore attack Jack Murray, who had three goals and three assists, Albemarle topped North Stafford, 18-7, in the Virginia AAA Northwestern Region championship at Wolverines Stadium.

Albemarle (12-4) advanced to today's state final at W.T. Woodson at 7 p.m. North Stafford finished the season 16-1.

"When I looked at what Albemarle did to Woodbridge [an 11-7 win in April], I knew we were going to have to score 14 or 15 to win," said North Stafford Coach Bill Ayres, whose team led, 3-1, midway through the first quarter. "I was encouraged when we jumped out on them pretty quick, but they regrouped and came back and started throwing some hard shots and got our guys out of place."

North Stafford looked quicker in the opening quarter as senior midfielder Beau Ballou (three goals, two assists) and senior attack Matt Thompson (two goals, one assist) ran through Albemarle's defense en route to easy scores. But as Albemarle stepped up the defensive intensity, the momentum began to shift. Albemarle scored four straight goals and led, 5-3, heading into the second quarter.

North Stafford appeared to get a break between quarters when officials ruled that Albemarle attackman Freddy Schmoyer was using an illegal stick and penalized him three minutes without release. But despite the man-advantage, North Stafford failed to score.

Albemarle, meanwhile, was beginning to hit its offensive stride. Led by Schmoyer, Murray and senior attack Matt James, the Patriots scored three goals in 89 seconds and took an 8-3 lead. Ayres had seen enough.

"I remember calling a timeout and telling them not to worry about the score," said Ayres, who sensed his team was getting frustrated. "I told them to just focus on one goal at a time."

The strategy seemed to work. After the timeout, North Stafford scored two goals and trailed, 8-5, at halftime. But Albemarle scored six of the first seven goals in the second half and led, 14-6, late in the third quarter.

"This team scored three goals in a minute twice this year, and I reminded them of that [at halftime]," Ayres said. "I said, `You're still in this.' But when they came out in the second half and put those first two in real quick, I think that was a hard one for them to overcome."

Midfielders Ryan Eagle and Mike D'Eredita added goals for North Stafford, and senior goalie J.D. Killian made 12 saves.

"They worked real hard; they played real hard; they gave it everything they had," said Ayres, whose team was 11-2-1 last season. "And as I told them when I was done, I wouldn't want to be the coach of any other team."

CAPTION: North Stafford's Mike D'Eredita goes down after taking hit Thursday from James Miller of Albemarle. The Patriots broke open the game with six goals in third quarter en route to winning AAA Northwestern Region championship. Below, attackman Freddy Schmoyer fires shot on Wolverines goalie J.D. Killian.