After allowing a season-high five goals to Centennial just nine days ago, Marriotts Ridge coach Quinn Khouri knew he needed to make some changes ahead of their playoff rematch Saturday morning.
During practice this week, Khouri decided to add a third center back to keep one player in front of the offensive talent of the Eagles. That plan kept No. 2 seed Centennial scoreless until the final 90 seconds in a 2-1 road win that advanced the No. 3 Mustangs to the 3A East, Region I final against Manchester Valley or Mt. Hebron.
“The boys worked on that all week, made sure we pressured right away and forced them to go backwards if possible, and if you do get beat you have that safety net behind you,” Khouri said. “The boys did a fantastic job adjusting to that.”
Offensively, Mark Lee capitalized on a pair of set pieces in the first half. The senior midfielder cleaned up a loose ball after a free kick and sent his left-footed shot on a bounce into the far side of goal in the 8th minute.
“We wanted to score early,” Lee said. “So the fact that we were able to do that set the tone for the game, and it was able to give us confidence.”
In the 37th minute, Lee did it again, but this time got the help of an Eagles defender. His free kick into the box deflected off the head of a Centennial player in the crowded six-yard box, off the post and into the back of the net for a 2-0 lead.
“I know I can get the ball to them in the box and we have some height, and I think we had the height advantage,” Lee said. “So I just whipped the ball in toward the far post, and something good is going to happen when you put a good ball in.”
“[Mark] is an unbelievable talent. He really is,” Khouri said. “He really makes a different when he’s on the field and he’s certainly a player that I’ve been lucky to have coaches for four years, and hopefully his run as a senior continues.”
Marriotts Ridge (7-5-1) maintained its two-goal lead through 79 minutes. Only a penalty kick goal by Centennial’s Elliott Keppler prevented the clean sheet for Zachary Sloan (nine saves).
Centennial (8-6-1) struggled to get quality chances against the new-look back line of the Mustangs. Eagles coach Justin Thomas said a few teams have played a defensive-first formation and mentality against them this season, which has caused some problems. They had been able to breakthrough for the most part but were unable to this time until it was too late.
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“They sat back and had a plan for counters, and they got up the field and they got a couple opportunities,” he said. “It’s frustrating … it is tough.”