It may have been a fall full of rebuilding and frustrating results for the Marriotts Ridge boys soccer team, but for one night — on Friday in the opening round of the 2A South playoffs — the program managed to turn back the clocks.
In an effort that brought back memories of the Marriotts Ridge teams that captured four straight state titles between 2009 and 2012, the Mustangs exploded for three goals in the first 40 minutes and carried that momentum the rest of the way en route to a 5-1 victory over Hammond.
Coming into the night, Marriotts Ridge (1-13) hadn't scored three goals in a game all season, let alone three in a single half. But a breakthrough four-goal effort by Simon Klementsen carried an attack that finally found its stride.
"I was just saying to the boys, this is finally starting to look like Marriotts Ridge soccer," Marriotts Ridge coach Kevin Flynn said. "As happy as I was with the goals, I was just as happy with how we attacked with pace, moved the ball and how we created opportunities. That first half is probably the best we've looked all year."
The win technically marks the first of the season for the Mustangs, which found out earlier this week that they had to forfeit a win and four ties because of an ineligible player. The self-reported violation, which came about because a player on the roster had been playing while living out of district, also resulted in the game being played at Hammond instead of Marriotts Ridge.
Since all teams make the playoffs, though, the Mustangs were able to wipe the slate clean and start fresh for the playoffs.
When the two teams met during the regular season — a game Marriotts Ridge had won at the time 2-1 — Hammond (2-12) was actually the aggressor early on the way to grabbing the lead. This time, however, the roles were flipped.
The Mustangs were the ones firing on all cylinders from the opening kick off and controlling the run of play. That pressure paid off in the ninth minute when Robert Davis corralled a failed clear and fired a hard shot into the left corner of the net from the top of the box.
That 1-0 lead held up until the late stages of the first half when Klementsen joined the scoring act. After a long shot by Davis deflected off Hammond goalie Bryce Kohlheim (6 saves), the sophomore midfielder pounced on the loose ball in front and finished with 7:34 remaining in the half.
Then, in the final two minutes before the break, Klementsen found the net again. This time it was a shot from distance — roughly 30 yards outside the box — that he was able to pound into the far corner of the goal.
"Simon was just in a zone today and I really thought him and Rob worked really well together," Flynn said. "It was great to see. We did a lot of work all week on playing the ball fast in the final third and getting those combinations in, and you saw it pay off."
Trailing by three, Hammond certainly didn't throw in the towel. Seemingly rejuvenated during the intermission, the Golden Bears came out and got on the scoreboard less than three minutes into the second half.
Orlando Canales gained possession of a bouncing ball on the left post and finished past Marriotts Ridge goalie Jon Dryja (3 saves) to cut the Hammond deficit to two, 3-1.
Then, six minutes later, the Golden Bears nearly got even closer on a flurry in front that resulted in back-to-back shots that glanced off the right post.
"Effort was the difference, in that there finally was some. We're not a good enough team to play like we did in the first half … when you do, that's what you're going to get," Hammond coach Brett Cutler said. "Those first 15 minutes of the second half were definitely better. We had those two fabulous chances … we easily could have had three goals there. But we just couldn't sustain that energy."
Having dodged the Hammond push, Marriotts Ridge was able to settle back in. After a mix of chances for both squads in the middle of the second half, the Mustangs pushed their lead back up to three with eight minutes left on Klementsen's third goal of the night. Then with time running down, Klementsen sealed his special evening with a fourth goal that created the final 5-1 score.
"It was playoffs and everything just clicked today," Klementsen said. "We worked well together, added a new formation and it worked really well. A lot of games this season we've been close, but today we finally finished the plays."
Marriotts Ridge now advances into a match-up against top-seeded Calvert on Tuesday and Flynn says he hopes his guys can take the result and keep building.
"We talked about how this is a new season. We can forget everything about the old season except for the things that we learned," Flynn said. "Some of the things we learned came out today. We learned if we play fast and play with a lot of energy, we can play well. It's just a bunch of little one-game seasons now."