Marriotts Ridge's Amir Najib says he was never worried. Down a goal heading into the half against Oakland Mills in the 2A North regional final game Tuesday, the Mustangs’ junior admits there was a sense of urgency in the huddle during intermission. No one, however, was panicking.
“We know Oakland Mills is a team that likes to stay back and kick it long, put a lot of guys behind the ball. So I think naturally some doubt starts creeping in, but once we came together and started talking we knew what we had to do,” Najib said. “We had to push on, keep attacking and the goals were going to come.”
Sure enough, after 50 scoreless minutes, Marriotts Ridge finally broke through on a diving header by Najib on the right post 11 minutes into the second half. Then three minutes later, Najib completed the comeback.
Courtesy of another header, Najib scored into the right corner to put Marriotts Ridge ahead and provide what ended up being the deciding tally in a 2-1 victory. With the comeback, the Mustangs kept alive their bid for a fourth consecutive state championship.
“I knew this was going to be as good of a test as we’ve gotten in the region in a long time, but the boys responded,” Marriotts Ridge coach Kevin Flynn said. “We took their best shot and then stepped up and answered in the second half.”
When Oakland Mills and Marriotts Ridge squared off during the regular season, it was the Mustangs that took control at the onset with three goals in the first 15 minutes. Tuesday, in the region final, it was the Scorpions that established the early upper hand.
Oakland Mills’ goalie Hassan Mostafa (7 saves) made a point-blank save in the seventh minute and that seemed to help the Scorpions settle in.
“I thought the first 10 minutes when they jumped us, Hassan made a save, and then suddenly the momentum started swinging and it was like ‘OK, we can play with these guys,’ ” Oakland Mills coach Don Shea said.
After some back-and-forth play, Oakland Mills broke the scoreless tie with 16:55 remaining before the half when a corner kick by David Last deflected off a Marriotts Ridge player just inside the near post.
That goal, combined with nearly flawless play in the midfield and on defense, helped the Scorpions carry a 1-0 cushion into the break.
“That’s as good a half as anybody’s played against us all year in terms of taking us out of our game and making us pay for our mistakes,” Flynn said.
Marriotts Ridge made a tactical adjustment to start the second half, pushing Najib up to the wing from his midfield position. And, although, the more aggressive alignment didn’t pay off immediately, there were several near misses, including a header by Sam Willsey that was saved off the end line 10 minutes after halftime.
A minute later, though, Najib found pay dirt.
Taking a crossing pass from Brad Martinelli on the left wing, Najib finished past Mostafa to tie the game at 1-1.
“We were struggling to find a way to score and they were filled with confidence and I think that goal lowered their confidence a ton,” Najib said. “I guess we learned how to score in a way,” against their defense.
Three minutes later, the Mustangs went back to the very same play for the game winner. This time Nick Applegate was the set-up man, crossing the ball from the left wing to Najib, who finished into the right corner.
“They were identical goals … they played it over top, pushed it over (to the middle) and then put it in,” Shea said. “Both times our guys were nowhere to be found. They were glaring mistakes … you can’t let a kid inside you like that.”
The two scores against Oakland Mills give Najib seven goals in three playoff games thus far.
“Playoff wise, I haven’t seen anybody go on a tear like this in a long time,” Flynn said.
Marriotts Ridge now advances into a 2A state semifinal match-up against a South Carroll team that the Mustangs defeated, 4-1, in the same game last year.
Marriotts Ridge 2, Oakland Mills 1
Goals: MR – Najib 2; OM – Last.
Assists: MR – Martinelli, Applegate.
Saves: MR – Miller 4; OM – Mostafa 7.
Half: 1-0 OM.