The first five minutes of Thursday's boys soccer showdown between McDonogh and host Archbishop Curley was a telling preview of what was in store for the rest of the game.
Both teams had a promising scoring chance, but it was the No. 1 Eagles who were able to finish.
In an evenly played game with plenty of opportunites coming at each end, McDonogh scored goals in each half and then held off a late surge from the No. 3 Friars to come away with a 2-1 win in a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference opener for both teams.
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Archbishop Curley High School, 3701 Sinclair Ln, Baltimore, MD 21213, USA
The defending champion Eagles improved to 4-0 overall, while Curley fell to 4-2.
In the opening minute, the Friars had a chance to make an early statement when Michael Sauers sent a free kick to the far post, but forward Eric Spalt couldn't quite get to it in his bid to head it home.
Midfielder George Campbell headed home a cross from the left corner by defender Charles Thorne in the fifth minute to put the Eagles on the board.
The early advantage allowed the Eagles to get comfortable.
"It meant a lot," Campbell said. "They're a high-paced team and a very technical team just like us. To get on them early and be able to get the momentum, it helped us a lot because it let us settle down and get into our game instead of having to chase them around."
The Eagles made it 2-0 midway through the second half when Connor Smith got behind the Friars' defense and finished off a chance from 8 yards after collecting a through ball from Matt Linardi.
Friars goalie Jake Ossie kept his team in range when he made two brilliant saves on Campbell — the first on a penalty kick and the second on the point-blank rebound that was tipped over the crossbar with 11 minutes left.
When Tre Pulliam softly chipped a left-footed shot over McDonogh goalie Matt Sanchez to make it 2-1 with 5:45 left, the Eagles had to endure some anxious final moments. Sauers had the best chance to tie the score when he found space through the middle, but his shot from 12 yards went wide.
McDonogh coach Steve Nichols was pleased with his team's effort. With seven sophomores and freshmen playing regularly, he's expecting to see some inconsistent minutes over the course of games as the team develops. The quality finishes and steady play from a young defense led by Scatt Macdonald were highlights.
"It's just going to be battling and fighting and growing as a group and in the end we're going to be fine," he said. "Curley is a good team, and it's great to get a win here. It's not a situation where we're a bunch of seniors and be peaking early. We're going to get better as we grow and develop — it's just going to take some time."
Curley coach Barry Stitz also saw pluses and minuses that come with the early season.
"I thought we played well enough to win," he said. "I was happy with what we created and thought we should have put up more than one. But where I wasn't happy was the goals we gave up were too easy for them. Both times guys ran alone, and while they did a nice job finishing, we made it too easy for them."
Goals: M – Campbell, Smith; C – Pulliam.
Assists: M – Thorne, Linardi; C – Haslup.
Saves: M – Sanchez 4; C – Ossie 6.
Half: M, 1-0.