Northern goalie D.J. Walker waited in the middle of the net, stick hanging above his right shoulder, a simple four-word phrase running through his head: Make the next save.

Glenelg had just cut Northern’s lead in the Maryland 3A/2A boys’ lacrosse championship to one goal, and it was chaos in front of Walker’s net. His own defensemen shielded him from the action, if only for an abiding moment or two. Glenelg’s attacks hung close by. Northern needed him to keep the ball out of the net for just another minute or so, and he made two saves to cement the Patriots’ 5-4 win over the Gladiators on Tuesday night at Stevenson University.

The first save came on a searing shot from the right alley. The second was on a point-blank chance. Walker made five total saves to anchor a Northern defense that allowed just one goal in the final 36 minutes. In turn, the Patriots became the first Southern Maryland Athletic Conference team to win a boys’ or girls’ state championship in lacrosse. 

“It’s unreal. It feels like a movie,” Walker said. “We’ve been saying that, a lot of players, like it doesn’t feel real because it’s something we talk about all the time. Since March 1 it’s, ‘We’re going to win states, we’re going to win states.’”

While Glenelg (13-7) entered Tuesday’s matchup with three state titles to its name, Northern (18-2) had never parlayed its regular season success into a championship. The Patriots have won 107 straight SMAC games and counting, not losing in their league since March 2009. But they fell to Linganore in the semifinals last spring, and Tuesday was its first state title game appearance. 

Northern used it to carry the torch for all the SMAC teams that came before them. 

“I had 135 text messages when I picked up my phone after the game, and it’s still beeping in my pocket right now,” Patriots Coach Joe Casalino said of the support from local teams and coaches. “It’s an interesting situation that we’ve been so successful in SMAC, you’d think that a lot of opponents have a negative perception of who you are. And then you get to a situation like this and you find out that everyone is so grateful for success for our conference.”

But first the Patriots had to stave off a late push by Glenelg. 

Junior Mason Chaney pushed Northern ahead 5-3 when he scored his game-high third goal. Glenelg punched back into it with 1:46 left in the fourth quarter, but then was frozen at four goals by Walker and the Patriots’ back line. 

And when the final buzzer sounded and the Northern players tossed their sticks into the steady rain, the Patriots celebrated at the top of their defensive zone. No other spot on the field would have been more fitting.