- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Philip Brown scored with three minutes remaining to lift visiting Huntingtown to a dramatic 2-1 boys soccer win at Northern in the Class 3A South Region championship game on Tuesday.
“It’s unbelievable, really,” said Huntingtown senior Zach Nega, who opened the scoring in the 70th minute. “It’s been awful. Still now, I can’t believe we’ve finally gotten over this hump. We’ve gotten here so many times and always lost.”
“It feels like a dream, I guess,” Brown said.
The second-seeded Hurricanes (13-4 overall) will host Reservoir of Howard County, the 3A East Region champion, in their first-ever 3A state semifinals at noon Saturday at CCBC-Essex in Baltimore County. Urbana of Frederick County, the 3A West Region champion, will battle North Harford of Harford County, the 3A North Region champion, on the other side of the bracket.
“It’s a great feeling to be part of this,” said Huntingtown head coach Rob Martin, who took over this season after several years as an assistant coach. “We’ve had our good times and our bad times and this is the best time.”
It is Huntingtown’s first states appearance after reaching at least the regional semifinals the last six seasons. Huntingtown had been to the final three times, including last season, but was forced to play bridesmaid each time. Each of Huntingtown’s playoff losses over that span was by one goal.
The top-seeded Patriots (14-2-1) had defeated Huntingtown twice already in the regular season, including once in the final of the Patriot Classic, by 2-1 scores.
The Hurricanes have won three of the last five games, regular season and postseason, over their in-county rivals, which snapped an 0 for 10 skid dating back to 2006.
“It’s definitely a rivalry and it’s renewed every time we play,” Martin said of the battles against the Patriots. “If we had one win against Northern this year, it had to be this one in the region. Being on the sidelines for the last several years, we’ve seen [leads evaporate] against them. We were up late [in the Patriot Classic, an eventual 2-1 loss on Oct. 13] and they scored two late, so no lead is safe against them.”
With the game tied at 1 all, Brown who had entered the game just moments earlier -- scored the eventual region-clinching goal when a free kick got away from Northern goalkeeper Zach Dunn and Brown maneuvered around a defender and scored.
“Northern’s goalie is one of the best in Maryland and [loose balls like that] just happen, so you have to capitalize on it,” Brown said. “It was a great ball by Devin and I just thought, ‘I have to put it in the back of the net,’ [but] as I settled the ball it was like, ‘How am I going to pull this off.’”
“He was a late substitution,” Martin said of the senior, “and he made the most of his minutes.”
The Patriots were quick to come to Dunn’s defense.
“Zach’s a tremendous goalie and it’s just one of those things,” Northern head coach John Rossi said. “It happens maybe once in a 100 shots, but it’s not something to hang his head on. He had a great season and he’s a great keeper.”
“He couldn’t have done anything about that,” Northern senior Brant Leadbeter said of his goalie. “He did his best and we’ll do our best to make sure he knows it wasn’t his fault.”
After 69 scoreless minutes, the two teams scored three times over the last 11 with Nega opening the scoring when he headed in a cross off the foot of Tim Murnin with 10 minutes to play.
But Northern’s Ryan Phelps netted the equalizer just about two minutes later on a low shot from almost 35 yards out that found the inside left post.
“I was not happy about that at all,” Huntingtown goalie Reis Richardson said. “I saw it coming and as soon as I hit the ground [with arms outstretched], it bounced over [my fingers]. I had it covered but...’”
“I think what happened was because of the condition of the field the ball took a bounce at the last minute and flipped up,” Huntingtown assistant coach Kevin Streete said. “We saw during warm-ups that was happening and that was one of my major concerns.”
On the opposite sideline, Rossi felt the goal might give his team a boost.
“I thought that at least would get us into overtime, if not get some momentum after that,” he said. “I thought we might get a second one and be all right, but they ended up getting the second one before we did. I felt that would turn the tide our way, but it never happened.”
Four minutes later, Brown vaulted the Hurricanes into the state semifinals.
“[After their goal], I was in shock, I was like, ‘Here we go again,’” Nega said. “[But after Brown’s goal], I was going crazy. It’s unbelievable, really. Still now, I can’t believe we’ve finally gotten over this hump.”
The Patriots, who have been to the last two 3A state semifinals, were obviously disappointed.
“Huntingtown’s a good team and they played well tonight,” Rossi said. “Our guys played well, it’s just a classic rivalry and a classic match and we fell on the short end of it. Not a great feeling, but the guys, I’m proud of them. They played hard and it was a great season for us. Even until the bitter end they never gave up, they kept fighting hard and I’m proud of them for not getting their heads down and keeping them up.”
“It sucks senior year [to lose like this],” Leadbeter said. “We have a really good team and I think we could have made [it to the] state finals, but it just wasn’t our day. We played our hearts out. We put it all out there. It’s heartbreaking. Good job to Huntingtown, they played well, but it sucks.”