The third time was the charm for Howard. After losing in the regional finals in each of the past two seasons, the Lions got the job done on Wednesday evening.
Howard took a slim one-goal lead into halftime but exploded for five consecutive scores to start the third quarter and snatched command of the game. Cody Ford finished with five goals for the third straight contest, leading Howard past visiting Bel Air, 14-7, to win the program’s first regional title.
A familiar foe, the Bobcats (12-4) ended the Lions’ season a year ago in the 4A-3A south championship game. Howard knew what it was in for and turned the tables on their opponent from Harford County.
“Bel Air is a very talented team. We knew that they were well-coached and played fast in transition,” Lions coach Jimmy Creighton said. “Our kids just came in prepared and focused. They played with a lot of confidence.”
After going back-and-forth with Bel Air for much of the first half, Scott Bruner’s unassisted goal with 5:15 to play in the second quarter gave Howard a 5-4 advantage at halftime.
The Lions came out of the break on a mission, and a five-goal run to open the third quarter proved to be too much for Bel Air.
Ford scored three times in the decisive spurt, while Bruner and Nick Striebich (three goals) also found the back of the net to give Howard a 10-4 lead with just over four minutes left in the period.
“We told them (at halftime) to execute the game plan and continue to play hard,” Creighton said. “I told them, ‘We didn’t work all offseason to let it slip away now.’ They came out fired up and ran away with it.”
Brad Zulick, John Travisano and Cooper Gerus all added insurance goals in the fourth quarter, and goalie Ben Judy stopped 12 shots to wrap up the victory.
Howard (16-2) moves on to this weekend’s state semifinal round at Franklin High School, where it will face defending 4A/3A champion South River from the East region.
Class 4A/3A South championship
Howard 14, Bel Air 7
BA 3 1 1 2 — 7
Ho 2 3 5 4 — 14
Goals: BA – Pfeiffer 2, Creaghan 2, Kalama, Bush, Dinsmore; Ho – Ford 5, Striebich 3, Bruner 3, Zulick, Travisano, Gerus.
Assists: BA – Pfeiffer 2, Kalama, Fleagle, Bush, Jones; Ho – Bruner 3, Striebich 2, Sementilli 2, Gerus, Keohane.
Saves: BA –Hanley 7, Santimays 1; Ho – Judy 12.