River Hill boys soccer coach Matt Shagogue is glad he’s not a football coach. Waiting a week to play again after a loss would eat at him too much.
The Hawks, who lost their first game of the season at home to Wilde Lake on Saturday, didn’t even have a practice before beating Mt. Hebron, 4-1, on Monday, and officially got back on track on Thursday with a 4-1 win at Howard.
River Hill and Howard were tied atop the Howard County standings entering the day but the Hawks now sit alone in first place and are two wins next week away from winning their third straight league title.
“Saturday, before they even came off the field I told them, ‘Guys, this is done. We can’t change this, let’s just forget about it,’” Shagogue said of losing to the Wildecats in overtime. “... Believe me, we’re all disappointed about it but that’s done, can’t do anything about it. You know, we can only look forward.”
River Hill (8-1, 11-1) couldn’t buy a goal in the first half against Wilde Lake despite constant pressure and numerous scoring chances. It didn’t have that problem against Howard (7-2, 8-4), which was riding a three-game winning streak.
Junior Jonah Stoutenborough, who leads the team with 23 points, claimed the team’s scoring lead with his ninth goal of the year in the 4th minute on a perfectly placed free kick from 25 yards out.
“Oh my gosh, it makes a huge difference,” Shagogue said of scoring early in the contest. “You know, we always talk about getting up early and making the other team chase the game. We know every game is going to be different if the other team has to chase it, so I thought that was really important.”
The Lions, however, caught up. Defender Jeff Bruner showed off his powerful right leg and hammered his own free kick into the back of the net, this one 30 yards from the goal, in the 8th minute to tie the game at 1.
But River Hill settled and found holes behind Howard’s midfield throughout the rest of the game and slowly built up toward another goal. It came after Bruner committed a foul in the corner of the box, which awarded the Hawks a penalty kick in the 20th minute. Julian Elguera calmly placed the shot into the bottom right corner to double the Hawks’ lead to 2-1.
The “game changing” goal came on the final play of the first half, though. A quick throw in for Howard was turned over and Jeff Fuentes’ left-footed kick near the top of the box found its way past a diving Colin Sutch and into the Lions’ net. The horn sounded as Fuentes celebrated in front of the Howard student section.
“You hate to say any one play makes or breaks a game,” Lions coach Nils Schroder said, “but that was a heartbreaker.”
Howard was outshot, 21-8, in the game but wasn’t without quality chances. Minutes after Bruner knotted the score, it hit the post. And in the 51st minute, a yellow card to River Hill’s Casey Finkelston gave the Lions a penalty kick and a chance to cut the deficit to one. Joe Circus shot left, and a diving Eric Gessell stopped it.
“I think that was that would have been a game changer as well,” Schroder said. “I think we had some momentum building up then.”
The remainder of the game belonged to the Hawks. They sliced through the Lions’ midfield and back line time and time again, and a second shot attempt by Fuentes in the 65th minute sailed through Sutch’s hands and into the net for a 4-1 River Hill lead.
Shagogue said there was a gap between the midfield and the back line, which he thought his team could exploit. He said his players executed that part of the game plan well.
“What we did was we found our wide players come and checking to find the ball, and we didn’t think their backs were going to step, and they didn’t,” Shagogue said. “So it allowed us to turn and run at them, and that’s how Jeff earned the penalty and Junior [Amankwa] was able to get in multiple times. ... I thought we did that well and it seemed to work.”
The Hawks face Centennial and Reservoir next week to close out the regular season, while Howard, which now sits one game back and in a tie for second place in the league with Wilde Lake, has Long Reach and Oakland Mills.