The Marriotts Ridge boys soccer team traveled to Centennial on Thursday with the Howard County championship in the balance.
With both teams priding themselves on organized play in the back, it was apparent that a special play would be needed to make the difference.
In the 26th minute, Marriotts Ridge senior midfielder Amir Najib softly chipped a ball ahead to junior forward Jeff Kammerer, who settled and then neatly placed a shot from 15 yards in the lower left corner for the game's only score.
With Kammerer providing the needed offense, the No. 4 Mustangs were able to fend off the No. 7 Eagles the rest of the way to come away with a 1-0 victory that completes a perfect 14-0 regular season for the three-time defending state champions.
"I called the ball from Amir and I don't know how he did it, but somehow he chipped that over perfectly to my feet. I took a bad first touch, it kind of bounced up and then I saw the goalie coming out, so I just tried to get it by him," Kammerer said.
The Mustangs protected the lead in the second half, still getting forward and also staying tidy in the back when the Eagles (11-1-1) pushed for the tying goal.
The home team's best chance to get even came with 31 minutes left when junior midfielder Max Dwyer sent a hard low shot aimed for the right corner from 14 yards, but Mustangs goalkeeper Ryan Miller (four saves) dived to his left to turn it away.
With 8:20 to play, Centennial midfielder Jimmy Wang headed a ball ahead with forward Chris Lee looking to chase it down inside the penalty area, but Miller alertly left his goal line to smother the opportunity. Senior central defender Sam Willsey also played a big role in keeping the Eagles in check.
After Centennial's final chance was headed away and the final whistle blew, the Mustangs quickly converged to celebrate their perfect regular season.
"It's one of the two goals we set out for ourselves every year," Marriotts Ridge coach Kevin Flynn said. "It's a tough county to win, there's a lot of good teams and there's no days off. It means a lot. Our guys play club with a lot of players from other teams in the county, so it's bragging rights for them and another title, something else to put up on the wall."
Despite the setback, Centennial coach Jim Zehe was proud of his team's effort.
The Eagles, who have battled injuries the past couple weeks, also came into the week with a perfect record at 11-0 before Tuesday's 1-1 tie against River Hill and Thursday's loss.
While the Mustangs chase a fourth straight state title in Class 2A, the Eagles are directing their attention to the 3A crown.
"At the beginning of the season, we didn't talk about it too much, but we knew we had a team that was good enough that our goal was to win the state championship," Zehe said. "Everybody is a little upset we didn't win the county, but the ultimate goal is still available to us and we're going to be in better shape. This is disappointing, but we're very happy about what's going to be happening going forward."
4 Marriotts Ridge 1, 7 Centennial 0
Goals: MR -- Kammerer
Assists: MR -- Njib
Saves: MR – Miller 4; C – Bicknell 7
Half: MR, 1-0.