Freshman Robbie Ryerson scored the game’s only goal to lift fourth-seeded Howard (7-7-1) over host Catonsville, 1-0, in the Class 4A North Region Section I boys soccer semifinals.
Ryerson’s goal came with 12:52 left in the first half.
“I was going to hit it the first time and then the defender came out and I faked a shot, took a touch by him and just hit it on goal,” Ryerson said. “I just did the best I could.”
“It was well-placed and it went in, it was good placement, so it was a well-deserved goal,” said Catonsville coach Brendan Kennedy, whose top-seeded Comets finished 8-4-1. “We had plenty of chances on our own, we just couldn’t take the lead early or get level.”
Before Ryerson’s goal, the visiting Lions had another golden opportunity following a breakaway by Monssef Marrakchi, but his uncontested shot form inside 10 yards was saved by Catonsville goalie Eli Miller.
“We knew they played a high [back] line, so we got one-on-one with the keeper and couldn’t finish,” Howard coach Nils Schroder said. “We didn’t want their defense to get involved in jump-starting their offense, so we knew if we left our speed up top, we would kind of control their defense as well.”
Forward Shane Fisher also made some spirited runs that made the Comets work hard getting back.
David Owens, Zebb Eshetu, Ben Stauffer and Favian Campbell started the game on defense and reserves Van Hmung and Tim Delaney provided quality minutes.
After Howard scored, Owens saved a possible scoring chance, with a swift sliding tackle in the box to end a dangerous run.
Marrakchi had another quality chance with 7:42 left in the half, but Miller left his mark and squelched the attempt with a diving save.
Catonsville’s Mackenzie Ali had a pair of long shots late in the half, but one sailed high and the other was saved by goalie Colin Sutch.
Ali was part of a strong midfield, along with Dale Boring and Jaylen Clark, that controlled play in the second half and set up multiple chances in the box.
Catonsville’s Will Ford had a breakaway opportunity with 31:34 left, but his shot sailed high.
A corner kick by Boring ended with a high shot by Ali with 28:15 left.
After Howard’s fast-break opportunity was stopped by Miller, Boring took a shot with under 26 minutes that caromed off the football goal post above the crossbar.
Just before the midway point of the second half, Delaney’s throw into the box was batted by goalie Kenny Accardi, to Ali in the box. Ali sent a short bicycle kick over his head to Mike English, but his shot was deflected and sent high in the air by Mark Bruner.
The ball landed untouched in the box and Accardi swiped at it, but missed the spinning ball. On Accardi’s second attempt he sent the ball out with a volleyball spike and it was cleared by Sam Weaver.
When the Comets weren’t getting salvos to the end line, they were getting defensive rejections from Weaver, Bruner, Andrei Shiller, Tyler Prevast and Ryerson by any means necessary.
“The last couple weeks, all we worked on was corner kicks, long throws and defending,” Schroder said. “They got some good shots off, but we were where we needed to be and we didn’t get out of position.”
After Prevost hit the post with a shot with 17:40 remaining in the game, the Comets really ramped up the pressure at the other end.
With 15:00 left, Boring’s corner led to a shot by Delaney that went wide.
Jack Lowe had a shot on goal after a throw by Delaney into the box, and with 6:10 left, Eshetu’s nifty cross was redirected wide by Ali.
With 4:40 left, Owens fired one that was rejected by Shiller.
Eshetu followed with a wide shot and a free kick from Boring was blocked and cleared by Ryerson.
Catonsville goalie Miller came 40 yards out to redirect a ball and keep a threat alive and he did.
With one minute remaining, a throw in by Delaney was back-headed by Lowe and headed wide by Ali.
It was the last scoring chance the Comets would get.
“They played an extremely defensive second half and we got lots of chances, but they didn’t go in,” Kennedy said.
Although the Comets lose 11 seniors, Kennedy likes what he has returning from the varsity and moving up from the JV Baltimore County champions.
“We have a lot of really good juniors. I’m really excited for next season and we have a strong incoming class,” Kennedy said.
One of those returning seniors should be midfielder Ethan Clark, who missed most of this season with a hamstring injury.
“The couple of games he was in, the difference was definitely there and he wasn’t even full speed then,” Kennedy said.
Howard coach Schroder is glad to see his squad peaking at the right time.
“We struggled early in the year, but every game we were getting a little bit better,” Schroder said. “We were losing 1-0 and 2-1, but we ended with a three-game winning streak in Howard County and we won our first [playoff] game so we are playing the best soccer we’ve played all season.”
Howard defeated Mervo, 11-0, in the first round of the regional playoffs and they will play at Perry Hall on Friday, Nov. 3.