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Staff writer

As the soccer ball rolled around the back of the net lonely, Nathan Howard turned toward his Northern Patriots bench with his arms raised.

What Howard saw was his Patriots teammates rushing toward him in full sprint and he openly welcomed what was to come next.

“I was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, here we go. I am about to get tackled by my team and I am going to love every second of it,’” Howard said.

Only seconds earlier, his teammates watched as Howard kicked home the winning goal in overtime Thursday night at Leonardtown that delivered Northern a 3-2 victory over the Raiders and earned Howard a hard trip to the ground.

“I took the free kick and it bounced away,” Howard said of the game-winning play. “My team did a great job winning [possession]. Then, Joe [Cirillo] tried to dribble in and he left it for me and I just saw the back of the net all the way through.”

Howard’s game-winner only two minutes into the overtime period was the second of his two goals scored for Northern in Thursday’s victory, his first score coming at a crucial juncture in the second half that gave the Patriots a 2-1 lead with less than 15 minutes remaining in regulation.

Northern (2-1, 2-1 SMAC) held one-goal leads twice in Thursday’s victory, taking a 1-0 lead in the first half thanks to a Cirillo goal only to go into the halftime tied at 1. And after holding a brief 2-1 lead, Northern went into the overtime period tied at 2.

“At halftime, we were down, but our coaches told us to keep it up,” Howard said. “They told us that we were winning on the field but tied on the scoreboard. We had to keep winning balls and keep earning possessions and keep going for it.”

Patriots coach John Rossi admitted he enjoyed watching his team fight through the difficulty of a closely-competitive game to come away with a victory.

“Overcoming that kind of adversity is a defining moment for our team,” Rossi admitted. “I think that can spark us going forward. I think tonight, hopefully, is going to be the catalyst going forward. Leonardtown is a great team, Northern is a great team and it was just one of those rivalry games that could have gone anyway.”

On Howard’s play, Rossi added, “He has just been working on keeping his composure and he has grown up in the past couple of weeks. He is a tremendously hard worker. He is one of the hardest working players I’ve ever had here. I think tonight, he just shined.”

Northern will look to ride the wave of momentum with its home contest with the Calvert Cavaliers at 6 tonight.

Leonardtown head coach Dave Holland was high on his team after Thursday’s loss, in particular its ability to overcome two deficits in the contest.

Trailing 1-0 in the final moments of the first half, a Brad Polca corner kick was headed into the net by teammate Will Liebler to tie it at 1.

After falling behind 2-1, it took the Raiders two minutes to tie it at 2 after a Justin Nestor goal.

“We played hard the entire game and I have no complaints with our kids,” Holland said. “They played hard, they battled, they fought and we just have to strap it back on and come back out ready to play.

“Both teams played really hard. Credit goes to Northern because they came through and made the big play at the end. It was just a typical Northern-Leonardtown showdown and you never know what’s going to happen. … I’m just sorry we came out on the wrong end of it.”

Leonardtown (2-2, 2-1) will host Stone in its next contest at 6 p.m. Friday.

Northern 3, Leonardtown 2 (OT)

Northern 1 1 1

Leonardtown 1 1 0

Goals: Northern (Howard 2, Cirillo); Leonardtown (Liebler, Nestor)

Saves: Northern (Dunn 3); Leonardtown (Rawlinson 4)