MANCHESTER — For just a regular season game in late September, Francis Scott Key's boys soccer team still had much to prove in a meeting with Manchester Valley.
Aside from the Mavericks having won the matchup two years in a row, the Eagles were also coming off an overtime loss to North Carroll in their last county game, followed by a shutout at the hands of Gerstell.
That skid had the team itching for some validation, and Tuesday night was a great opportunity to find it.
Through 40 minutes of play, things were held at a scoreless tie. But in the second half, Jake Gosselin's two goals and keeper Ethan Rhoten's resolute performance helped pace the Eagles to a 3-1 win.
"I think in that second half, we came out fired up, pressured them right away, and just pounced on them," said Gosselin, who ranks among the county's best in points this season. "I think that's what made the difference for us."
Though both teams had difficulty finding the back of the net in the first half, that didn't stop the Mavericks from coming close.
Rhoten was arguably the busiest player on the pitch during the contest, which featured a steady rain that only intensified through the waning minutes.
His diving stops, quick reflexes and optimal positioning kept the Eagles (3-2, 1-1 county) very much in the game when the offense couldn't connect on the other side of the field.
"Defense, they helped me," Rhoten said. "They're my everything. I just clean up their mess."
Gosselin said the first half was all about figuring out the Mavericks' back line and how it operates. In an effort to switch things up following the break, FSK coach Larry Haines said his Eagles made a conscious decision to be more aggressive in the offensive third.
"In the second half, [we] had some changes when we decided we wanted to win the ball," Haines said. "And we wanted to compete more offensively."
Just four minutes into the second half, Trent Copenhaver's corner kick found Gosselin at the near post, where he headed it in for the score.
Five minutes later, Gosselin struck again — this time, on his own.
The senior gained possession at the top of the box, surrounded by Manchester Valley defenders. Gosselin showed off his footwork, cutting through the back line and firing far-side for the score to give the Eagles a two-goal advantage.
The lone goal for Manchester Valley (1-5, 0-2) came six minutes later, when freshman Vilius Matalavage won a footrace to a through-ball and scored the breakaway goal.
Roughly one minute later, however, it was Francis Scott Key freshman Lorenzo Palumbo who collected teammate Austin Petry's long set piece into the box and scored to maintain the two-goal lead once again.
"Well, it got a lot more wet," Mavericks coach Tom Goretsas said of his team's performance in the second half. "Conditions on the field were slippery, and I think we had a couple bad bounces, got out of position a couple of times."
Francis Scott Key's three scores in the second half signaled a distinct turn from what could have been another underwhelming outcome.
Haines said he hopes last week's close loss against the Panthers — who currently sit undefeated at the top of the Cowan Division — will help motivate team as it continues through the season.
"We felt like we won the game, even if it's a loss in statistics," Haines said. "So where we're at right now, is that we're trying to progress. And this is the next step."
Carroll County Daily Headlines
Goals: FSK-Jake Gosselin 2, Lorenzo Palumbo; MV-Vilius Matalavage.
Assists: FSK-Trent Copenhaver, Austin Petry.
Saves: FSK-13 (Ethan Rhoten); MV-4 (Griffin Potter)
Halftime: Tied, 0-0.