As his teammates jogged toward Coach Mike Siegert after the third quarter of Centennial's lacrosse game Saturday at Severna Park, senior Evan Calvert took the slow walk of frustration from the top of the circle to the sidelines.

Calvert's blistering shot over the right shoulder of Severna Park goalie Michael Gvozden came a tick after the horn sounded.

It might not have mattered in the end -- the Eagles had been out-muscled, out-played and out-gunned by an aggressive Severna Park team.

But the just-too-late shot was another frustration for a Centennial squad that was trailing the Falcons, 13-6, and eventually lost, 14-7.

"This was just another one of those games where we just came out flat again," Calvert said. "You can't expect to beat a Severna Park when you don't come out and play your game."

Calvert was frustrated that he didn't get his shot off in time, that his team didn't deal well with Severna Park's physical defense and at the Eagles' Jeckyll-and-Hyde routine this season.

Against Howard County teams, Centennial has seemed unbeatable, averaging 17.2 goals with an offense that operates with laser-guided precision.

However, against out-of-county teams -- in arguably three of the team's four biggest games to date -- the Eagles have had a tougher time, its offensive machine unplugged.

Before the Severna Park game, Centennial (5-2) lost to McDonogh, 6-4, on March 29 and trailed Broadneck by three goals March 2 before winning in overtime, 12-11.

"That's a disturbing trend. That's three big games we come out flat," Siegert said. "This is three big games so far where we came out and were not ready to play. You got to step up in big games, and we haven't done that."

Against Severna Park, Centennial's leading goal scorer, Sean Dougherty (21 goals), was held to just one score. Most of the Eagles' offense came from his brother, sophomore Brennan Dougherty, who scored four goals, and senior Mike Down, who had two goals.

There's no rest for the Eagles, either. Centennial will play Mount St. Joseph of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference at 7 p.m. Monday, trying to translate a tough early-season schedule into postseason success.

"We just want the competition," Down said. "We always play Anne Arundel County teams, and we never really win; that's what the saying is. They always try to take it to us, but we know it helps us."

The trend isn't new to this season. The Eagles, tied atop the county standings with undefeated Wilde Lake and Glenelg, lost two of four games to open last season before winning 14 straight en route to the Maryland 2A/1A championship.

The formula was a simple one. The Eagles used the ingenuity and motivation developed against difficult early-season opponents, the same type of competition Siegert has assembled this season.

"We lost two games early on last year and came out and finished the season really good," Down said. "Hopefully we can do that this year, just come back and play really well in the big games."

In the playoffs, 2A/1A Centennial likely won't see the type of competition it faced early this season. Broadneck and Severna Park reside in Class 4A/3A, where the Falcons were finalists last season, and McDonogh is a mainstay in the upper echelon of the MIAA A Conference.

"This doesn't change anything in terms of goals," Siegert said. "The goal is still to win the county and the regional and the state championship, and those things can all still occur. The key here is it just has to be a learning experience.

The Eagles' biggest worries in Class 2A/1A likely will be Pikesville out of the North Region, last year's runner-up Southern of Anne Arundel County or county rival Glenelg. And by playoff time, the Eagles hope to have the kinks of their early-season struggles worked out.

With the way they played Saturday, they have to hope.

"We need to play a schedule like this," Calvert said. "Maybe this will be something good for us. Maybe we will wake up for the rest of the season in our big games. I guess we have to try to use this as a positive because it was awful."

Senior Mike Down (8) looks for room against Severna Park's Tommy Zichelli during Centennial's 14-7 loss. Below, Brennan Dougherty (3) tries to shield the ball from A.J. Kestler of Severna Park. The reigning 2A/1A champion Eagles have struggled this season against opponents from outside Howard County.Pat Davis (15) lets a shot fly as Severna Park's Matt Hartman moves in. Below, Centennial's Dave Nakasone gets low to try to scoop a ground ball and stay in front of a pursuer from Severna Park. The Eagles are averaging 17.2 goals a game against Howard County opponents.