St. Paul's striker Nate Hall knew the Crusaders were strong heading into the season, and had the added advantage being underestimated as new members of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A conference.
After earning a second-place regular season finish, the No. 2 Crusaders continued their impressive run Wednesday by scoring three second half goals to beat No. 6 Archbishop Curley in the conference semifinals, 3-0, in Brooklandville.
Juwan Kearson led the way with two goals and an assist, and Hall added a goal and an assist for St. Paul's, which plays McDonogh for the league title Sunday at Archbishop Spalding.
"Entering the season, we had a lot of strong players coming back and I knew we could make a run at it," Hall said. "In the second half, we just didn't let up and used more of an attacking style and just took it to them."
After a scoreless first half, the teams created more scoring opportunities in the second half, effective moving the ball through the midfield. Tre Pulliam was especially dangerous for Curley and narrowly missed giving thre Friars the lead with crosses in the opening 10 minutes.
The Crusaders (16-3-1), however, were more effective as Hall beat his defender and slid a low cross to Kearson, who finished from close range in the 55th minute. The Friars (11-10-1) pushed more players forward, but the Crusaders' defense led by David Wetzel and goalie Connor Brown would not budge. Illiyas Mirza, who moved from forward to defensive midfielder this season, teamed with Morgan Lussi to control the center of the field for St. Paul's.
St. Paul's took a 2-0 lead with almost eight minutes left in the game when Hall scored off a pass from Kearson. The Crusaders controlled play the rest of the way and Kearson put the game out of reach with his second goal four minutes later.
"We had a lot of confidence coming into the game ," Kearson said. "We were kind of underdogs going from the B conference to the A, so we wanted to surprise people to get this far."
The Crusaders face another big test against McDonogh in the final. After losing to the Eagles 4-0 near the beginning of the season, St. Paul's forced a 3-3 tie in the rematch — the only time McDonogh has not won all season. Crusaders' coach Majid Mirza is confident his team is ready for the challenge.
"It's been a great season," Mirza said. "All year long, we've changed formation, changed people around and they have all adapted to what we've been trying to do. Curley is a great team, they are very well-coached and they should be proud of what they accomplished, too."
MIAA A Conference Semifinal
St. Paul's 3, Curley 0
Goals: SP-- Kearson 2, Hall. Assists: SP--Kearson, Hall. Saves: C--Col. Brown 6; SP--Con. Brown 5. Half: 0-0