Last Saturday was a real downer for me.
I've had days where I had to watch back-to-back playoff games at the same venue, and others where I had to travel a moderate distance to cover two separate matchups, but Saturday marked the first time since I joined The Aegis that I've had to be at three different games which were being held at three different locations. There was the 1A boys soccer semifinal with Havre de Grace and Brunswick first, then the 3A North regional football semifinal between North Harford and Milford Mill, then the 3A boys soccer semifinal between North Harford and Urbana.
I've been trucking all over this state for a long time now, so that didn't bother me, but what did is that I had to watch three tough losses meted out to all three of the Harford County teams I was covering. At the risk of sounding like a jaded journalist, if I'm going to bust my tail getting around to games, I want the local teams to win so I have a better story to write. In any case, all of the teams I cover are done, except for Perryville and John Carroll football, and I'm gearing up for basketball season already. Until that starts and I can mix you up a power poll, here's another figure from the past week in Harford sports:
Zero: Before Saturday, that was the number of red cards I'd seen issued in state tournament soccer games, of which I've been to a few. But, during Saturday's 7 p.m. 3A boys soccer semifinal between North Harford and Urbana, two players were issued red cards. North Harford's Chris Winks was sent off in the 15th minute, and in the 60th minute, Urbana's William Eskay was ejected. With the latter, I found myself scratching my head. Eskay earned his red card for yelling a string of obscenities at a referee. The outburst came after Eskay had attempted to catch up with a pass into the North Harford penalty area, where he was met by Hawks' goalie Robert Fiackos, who, in textbook fashion, dove at the ball with his body laid out horizontally and grabbed it. Eskay was moving to quickly to fully jump over Fiackos' body, and went down pretty hard. Now, if you're a forward and you go hard after a pass like that, you have to expect the goalie is going to dive directly at your legs. That's just how it's done. If you commit, you might be able to get your toe on the ball and flick it into the goal, but you might also get clipped so hard that you do a full front somersault and land on your butt (I saw that exact thing happen when my team was playing Joppatowne my senior year). High risk, high reward, as they say. So, when Eskay came up from the collision yelling at the ref, I was a bit surprised. Urbana, leading 4-1 at that point, had the game essentially locked up. A foul call on Fiackos and a subsequent Urbana penalty shot would not have altered the outcome of the game. Yet, Eskay still felt wronged enough that he told the ref about it, and it earned him a two-game suspension, meaning he would be on the bench for Urbana's 3A title game, which, screamed obscenities or none, is a real tragedy.
Why did he come up yelling at the ref on a relatively meaningless play? I don't want to turn this into a matter of, "you wouldn't know because you've never played soccer," but it's hard to describe the feeling of getting your entire lower body taken out while you're running at full speed (football players could tell you, but that happens to them 20 times a game, so they have no reason to yell). It doesn't matter that the score is 4-1 or 10-1 or 1-0. When you see that pass run into the penalty area, everything else melts away, and it's just you and the goalie. Then, your legs fly over the back of your head and you're laying on your back with the wind knocked out of you. The correct move is to dust yourself off and walk away, but sometimes you're so worked up over having just barely escaped getting maimed that you want to vent at someone, and maybe there's a referee standing there.
I got kicked out of high school games for the same thing, and I always said to my coach, "I lost my mind for about 10 seconds. I'm sorry." I'm pretty sure that's what happened to Eskay.
So, kids, the lesson here is: Bite your lip, and you'll stay on the pitch.