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Two quick second-half goals lift Patriots boys past La Plata and into 3A South final

Northern 2, La Plata 0

La Plata 0 0Northern 0 2Goals: Northern (Howard, Phelps)Saves: La Plata (Thorne 7); Northern (Dunn 4)

By AJ MASON

Staff writer

Winning the first five minutes of the second half was vital for head coach John Rossi and top-seeded Northern in Friday night’s Class 3A South Region boys soccer semifinal.

The Patriots came out faster than expected, exploding for two goals in the first three minutes to secure the eventual 2-0 shutout of fourth-seeded La Plata.

Northern (14-1-1 overall) advanced to its sixth regional championship game in seven seasons and it was the fourth time during that span that it defeated the Warriors in the semifinal round.

The Patriots hosted second-seeded Huntingtown on Tuesday in the title game, which finished too late for inclusion into this edition. The Hurricanes defeated fourth-seeded Chopticon 2-0 in the region semifinals on Saturday.

“I told the guys that we had to work harder and make that push,” said Rossi, whose team defeated eighth-seeded Westlake 5-0 in the quarterfinals the day before. “The first five minutes we had to win. Once we got those two goals, it opened up a lot of things and forced La Plata to come out of their formation.”

After a scoreless first half, Northern junior Nathan Howard ripped a shot from 12 yards that lofted in the upper right corner of the net in the first two minutes of the second half.

“We needed to start playing in the second half,” Howard said. “When I saw the ball bouncing back my way, I just nailed a shot in the upper right corner and that got us going. The coaches have really been teaching us a lot this year and prepare us for each game. When we are on our game, we are very tough to beat. Our goal is to go to the state tournament.”

Rossi added, “Nate is a tough player and he has been great for us all year. He ripped that goal to start the second half and that gave us a huge boost.”

A minute later, Ryan Phelps dribbled to the right, eluded La Plata defender Trevor Wade, brought the ball back with his left foot and lifted a shot in the right corner of net to give the Patriots the two-goal lead.

“When I saw No. 17 [Wade] step up in the box, I cut it back and hit the shot from the same spot as Nathan,” Phelps said. “We had some opportunities in the first half, we just didn’t convert. I’m glad I was able to get a goal for the team. Getting those two quick goals really put a lot of pressure on La Plata. They played tough defense on us tonight.”

Rossi added, “Phelps had some chances in the first half that he missed, but he finally put one through for us. He’s our playmaker, he can flat out score and he creates scoring opportunities for everyone else.”

Northern did a real good job of marking up La Plata senior midfielder Garrett Lundegard, who came off of scoring a hat trick in a 6-2 win over fifth-seeded Crossland of Prince George’s County in the quarterfinals last Wednesday.

“After Northern scored that first goal, we lost our composure,” La Plata head coach Chris Butler said. “Once they got the second goal, everything got away from us. We possessed the ball well in the first half and then slowed the game down, but we didn’t take advantage of our opportunities. We had a lot of open shots, but our attackers didn’t make plays on the ball. Jake played good in the box for us and did all year. He kept us in a lot of games.”

Northern goalkeeper Zach Dunn earned the shutout with four saves.

“I had a few shots come at me, but I just had to make good judgment,” Dunn said. “Our defense really played well and we all communicated.”

With limited opportunities to score in the second half, La Plata struggled to gain possession.

“Northern played with a lot of fire in the second half and they wanted it more than we did,” Butler said. “Northern has so many scorers and they move the ball well.”

La Plata senior goalie Jake Thorne finished with seven key saves in the contest.

Rossi also was pleased with sophomore Ryan Knight, who he brought up from junior varsity in the Westlake game.

Knight, who scored in his first-ever playoff game versus the Wolverines, had several chances on Friday, but just missed the net.

"Ryan is getting confidence and for a young kid like that to be playing varsity in the playoffs says alot about his ability and talent."

ajmason@somdnews.com