Coach Jimmy Creighton and his No. 6 Howard Highboys’ lacrosse team live by a simple tenet: if you know what opponents are going to do before they do it, you’re halfway to stopping them.

So the Lions watch film — “a lot” of film, according to Creighton — as a team, individually, after games and before games.

Tuesday, against fellow Howard County front-runner No. 8 Centennial, the lessons learned from film combined with execution to yield a dominating defensive display from the Lions in an 8-2 win.

“We prepared for the matchups,” junior defenseman Adam Friedman said. “We knew what they were going to do ahead of time, we could recognize when they were calling out their plays. We knew how to set up.”

Friedman and the rest of the defense left no offensive player untouched. The defense responded to every Centennial pivot with a push and every change of possession with a full field’s worth of pressure. Talented Centennial attackers Andrew Gavlin, Quinn Western and Mikey Moore found themselves retreating from defenders or firing off-balance shots and passes, seemingly always hindered by a Howard stick or shove. Even in transition, where speed and skill in the midfield often spark Centennial (2-1), the Lions (4-0) kept pace and slowed the Eagles.

“I thought the defense did a great job executing the game plan,” Creighton said. “[Centennial has] some great players. I thought Adam Friedman did a great job on all-county attackmen today. They have very good mids in transition, and we talked to the mids about getting in the hole, not letting those guys get transition opportunities.”

No scouting report could prepare either side for the treacherous conditions on the Centennial field, reduced to mud by the unrelenting winter weather and unredeemed by two days of sun.

“Playing defense, you really had to focus on breaking it down into choppy steps or else you’d let your man beat you,” Friedman said. “That happened a couple times early in the game, but we adjusted, we fixed it.”

Ground balls provided a particularly sloppy challenge for both sides, as balls died in the mud and sticks scooped up turf, not the ball, more often than not. In those cases, the moments preparation couldn’t have helped, Howard still found an edge, finding ways to control balls that looked determined to remain loose as they bounced from stick to stick. Once the Lions gained possession, the game plan reigned again, extra passes yielding strong scoring chances on which Howard’s scorers capitalized.

Attackman Cody Ford skated through the muck particularly deftly, scoring three goals — a hat trick he says was just part of the game plan.

“If I get an open shot, usually I’ll take it, but we always try to get the closest goal possible,” Ford said. “We look for the extra feed, and I guess I happened to be the person there today.”