John Travisano rarely lets a faceoff devolve into a shoving match or loose ball scrum. Sometimes he’ll knock the ball away, use a push or a box-out to secure it, but in a blink he’s headed toward the goal, setting up Howard’s reliable set offense.

As he has all season, Travisano won faceoffs smoothly and consistently in Saturday’s Maryland 4A/3A semifinal against Dulaney. It wasn’t his best game of the season, but on 12 of 14 draws, Travisano handed Howard possession and left Dulaney chasing. Those possessions sparked Howard goals — or at least kept Dulaney from scoring — and helped produce an 8-4 win that puts the Lions (18-0) in their first Maryland boys’ lacrosse state title game in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association era.

“John all year has been great for us at the faceoff,” Howard Coach Jimmy Creighton said. “That continued today. He got us extra possessions like we definitely needed today because we weren’t really on on offense.”

Travisano lost the opening faceoff, and his team found itself down 3-1 as the first quarter wound down. But Travisano won three straight faceoffs in three minutes late in the second quarter. His Lions scored on every one of those possessions, turning a two-goal deficit into a three-goal halftime lead.

Junior midfielder Brad Zulick turned possession into offense with three goals, as did junior attacker Scott Bruner, who scored twice in 63 seconds to send Howard to halftime with a lead.

Howard turned possession into a defensive weapon the rest of the way, running through length offensive sets that left defenders’ legs ready to respond to any Dulaney challenges. Dulaney (14-5) scored one goal in the second half. Howard’s offense also settled in for the second half: Sparked by a stellar half of faceoffs from Travisano, the Lions poured in four goals.

“I think sometimes for these games you start off a little nervous,” said Zulick, whose Lions clinched the best season in school history with the win. “We needed to get our heads in it.”

Despite a propensity for slow starts, the Lions have displayed consistency on offense and defense sparked by Travisano’s consistency on faceoffs. Possession advantages have helped Howard limit opponents to five or fewer goals in all but three games this season and helped the Lions get goals in bunches.

Last year, the state semifinal doomed the Lions, who fell to 4A/3A runners-up South River. Now, still unbeaten after its first Howard County championship since the early 1990s and a second straight region title, Howard will face South River, the last team to beat the Lions, in the championship game next week.

“They gave us all we could handle last year,” Creighton said. “I’m sure the guys want revenge or whatever else, but the ultimate goal is to win the state championship and win the game.”

VISAA: The St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes boys won a second-straight Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association crown with a 10-8 victory over St. Christopher’s on Saturday at Randolph Macon College in Ashland.