HAMPSTEAD — North Carroll coach Andrew Harrell knew Thursday night's contest against visiting Liberty wasn't going to "make or break" his team's season.
The Panthers entered the game having played 24 hours previous — a physical, yet victorious, trip to Howard County to take on Century at Cedar Lane Park. Harrell's team was still undefeated before the Lions joined them at Powelson Field, though after giving up a pair of quick goals midway through the first half, the fatigue set in for the home team.
It wasn't North Carroll's night.
"Any time you play two county games in a row, it's not ideal," said Harrell, whose team lost its first game of the season, 3-1. "Century and Liberty are two very, very good programs, and playing them back-to-back was definitely not what we wanted to do."
The 2015 season for the Lions (3-5-2, 3-1 county) had been mostly up-and-down before facing the Panthers. Quality wins against Westminster and South Carroll showed how powerful last year's Class 2A West Region runners up could be despite losing a few key pieces.
But then there were the tough defeats, including one to Winters Mill, which hadn't collected a win up to that point, earlier this week.
"We've hit a couple roadblocks in the past couple of days, but we've always come into games being confident in what we're capable of," senior Ryan Turlik said. "We've just got to carry it out."
Just 14 minutes into the first half, after the Panthers (6-1, 3-1) had controlled much of the early possession battle, the Lions struck first on one of their first opportunities in opposing territory.
Zach Brumbalow got into a set piece off the right side, just a few yards from midfield. The deep pass into the box found a pack of Lions, though Turlik stuck his head out just enough to connect before redirecting it on what he called a "little flick" into the goal.
Just 4 minutes, 10 seconds later, Liberty having established itself more on the offensive side of the field, the visitors went up another score.
This time it was defender Chris Martin, who corralled a ricochet off North Carroll's Drew Schlossenberg in the box and fired for the score.
The Panthers had only given up two goals on two separate occasions all season, yet they found themselves in an early hole. And not being used to trailing by such a large margin, Michael Ros quickly put an end to it about one minute later.
Schlossenberg's long throw into the box connected with Ryan Lanza's head. The senior continued the ball's direction, with just enough force to hit a sliding Ros, who finished the sequence with a goal.
By halftime, Liberty had maintained its one-goal advantage, and most of the way through the second half, that's the way things stayed. While the Lions took their share of chances on offense, they also worked hard to ensure their lead stayed intact.
"We were trying to attack," Liberty coach Dave Abarbanel said. "I think North Carroll did a good job at times in the second half of kind of putting the heat on us, putting the pressure on us."
North Carroll came close on multiple corner kicks and lose-ball opportunities in the box late in the second half, though couldn't convert. After Abarbanel's team "weathered the storm," a late Jack Boyer score for Liberty helped put a Panther comeback attempt out of the question.
Though his squad had just been handed its first loss of the season, Harrell said the unblemished record wasn't exactly at the top of his players' list of priorities. For much of this season, getting healthy and plugging away though a treacherous county season was.
As for the Lions, Abarbanel said despite the adversity his team faced through the season, he's confident their confidence hasn't wavered.
"It's been a tough year for these guys, but they've got their eyes on the prize," the coach said. "They know what lies ahead of them. So we're excited to build from this win tonight."
Goals: L-Ryan Turlik, Chris Martin, Jack Boyer; NC-Michael Ros.
Carroll County Daily Headlines
Assists: L-Zach Brumbalow; NC-Ryan Lanza.
Saves: L-2 (Zach Porter 1, Justin Brookhart 1); NC-5 (Cameron Keith).
Halftime: Liberty, 2-1
JV Result: Tied, 2-2