The Bruner family has been lighting up the Howard scoreboard for years now. Scott Bruner led the undefeated Lions to the 2015 state championship and had 88 goals and 29 assists that spring, and this year it’s been younger brother Mark leading the way during his senior campaign.
Mark Bruner entered Wednesday’s 4A North regional championship game against Urbana having registered at least four points in each of the last six games, but he took his game to another level against the Hawks. The senior attackman finished with five goals and four assists, tying a season-best with nine points, to lead the Lions to a commanding 16-4 home victory.
It’s the fifth regional title in the last six years for Howard (16-1), which will face last year’s 4A/3A state finalists and 4A West regional champion Churchill in a state semifinal game on Friday or Saturday at Gaithersburg High School.
“It’s a different story and a different group every year and it always kinds of pans out a little differently, the team works out a little differently and how they come together, but it’s something special,” Howard coach Jimmy Creighton said. “It’s special for the seniors to get an opportunity to get back to the state final four and an opportunity to punch your own ticket to the state championship game.”
While Mark Bruner commanded the attention of the defense, both he and Creighton were quick to credit most of that success to faceoff specialist Felix Knorr. The Towson University commit lost one faceoff in the first quarter but won the rest to finish with 16 wins in 17 draws. It wasn’t an unordinary performance for the two-time All-County performer. Creighton said Knorr has lost maybe five or six faceoffs in the team’s first three playoff games.
“I think it starts with Felix at the faceoff, constantly winning possessions for us all year and it’s continued throughout the playoffs,” Creighton said. “He’s really had quite a dominant run so far.”
Said Mark Bruner: “When he starts rolling, he changes the momentum of the whole team.”
A Bruner contributed to each of the first seven goals for the Lions, who led 4-1 after the first quarter and 8-3 at the half. Bruner assisted Henry Frazier IV (two goals) midway through the opening stanza, and younger brother Jeff Bruner (three goals), a sophomore who entered the game with 36 points, scored the next one unassisted.
Knorr and Mark Bruner caught fire from there. Knorr won the ensuing faceoff cleanly and Mark Bruner found Ben O’Connor (three goals) for a tally just eight seconds later to make it 3-0. The same two players connected after a goal from Urbana’s Jackson Galloway (three goals), and then Mark Bruner rattled off three straight goals in the span of 3:16 to extend the advantage to 7-2 midway through the second quarter.
“I thought our offense was really patient. I thought we were moving the ball around and trying to beat them with ball movement instead of one-on-one dodges, and I thought Mark did a great job of finding guys and finishing his shots today,” Creighton said. “Once [Mark Bruner] gets going it opens more things up for other guys. They start sliding early to him, they start staring at him when he’s got the ball and then all of a sudden someone is open on the backside, and we’ve got some good finishers on the team.”
Already oozing confidence from a strong first-half performance, Howard further buried the Hawks in the third quarter and outscored them 4-0. Mark Bruner scored twice more and Knorr won all four faceoffs. The final goal from Jordan Larsen (two goals) with 3:27 remaining in the contest capped another 4-0 Howard run and started a running clock.
“When people score, whether it’s me or someone else, we all get pumped up and it just builds more momentum,” said Mark Bruner, who now has 54 goals and 40 assists this season.
It’s the 13th time this year the Lions have scored double-digit goals, and it’s also the 12th time they have allowed four or fewer goals. They are allowing 4.2 goals per game, the best among Howard County teams, and haven’t allowed more than nine in any contest.
Senior goalie David Mauser anchored the unit and made nine saves.
“I thought our defense did a great job today,” Creighton said. “That’s a very athletic team over there and I give them a lot of credit for getting this far and having a great season, but I thought our defense did a great job sticking to the game plan and I thought David Mauser did a great job in goal. Just great team defense.”
Howard (16-1) — 16, Urbana (10-7) — 4
Goals: Ho — Mark Bruner 5, Jeff Bruner 3, Ben O’Connor 3, Jordan Larsen 2, Henry Frazier IV 2, Patrick Sutch; U — Jackson Galloway 3, Brendan Schmitz
Assists: Ho — M. Bruner 4, Larsen, Garrett Rhinevault, ; U — Eric Kolar
Saves: Ho — David Mauser 9; U — Kevin Medina 10, Sean Kelty 1
Halftime: 8-3, Howard
2A South regional championship:
Marriotts Ridge (15-2) — 7, Southern — 6
Goals: MR — Ellis Gloyd 2, Brett Gladstone 2, Peter Geier, Logan Frank, Charlie Reynolds; So — Clingerman 4, Hutinson 2
Assists: MR — Luke Ingersoll 2, Charlie Reynolds, Peter Geier, Troy Hettinger; So — Phipps 4
Saves: MR — Colin Kelley 10; So — Anderson 15
Halftime: 4-2, Marriotts Ridge
3A East regional championship:
Centennial (12-5) — 14, J.M. Bennett — 12
Goals: C — Peter Krawczyk 4, Jeremy Wilson 3, Charlie Hockersmith 3, Thomas Thurmond 2, Michael Pellegrini, Ty Sams
Assists: C — Wilson 3, Sams 2, Pellegrini, Krawczyk
Saves: C — Jack Schlossberg 10
Halftime: 9-5, Centennial