Playing in the program’s first state title game since 1995, Centennial boys soccer knew it would have its hands full.
The Eagles matched up against top-seed Tuscarora, which entered Thursday night with a prolific offense, averaging 4.5 goals per game. That high-octane attack was led by senior forward Erick Rodriguez, who came into the game with a team-high 27 goals and 21 assists.
After a tightly contested first 20 minutes that featured a few scoring opportunities on both sides, Tuscarora broke through in the 25th minute. They added a second goal eight minutes later and only built on their lead, defeating No. 3 seed Centennial, 3-0, in the Class 3A state final at Loyola Maryland’s Ridley Athletic Complex.
“Tough game. We played a phenomenal team, really well organized and well-coached,” Centennial coach Justin Thomas said. “The game is cruel. I’m proud of how hard we fought through the game. I think we had a couple of chances in the first half. If things had gone the right way, it could’ve been different.”
The Titans’ (19-1) first goal was set up by Rodriguez, who sent a ball into the box that Ryan Stouffer finished past a lunging Kartik Sullivan. Nicholas Stevenson scored the first of his two goals a few minutes later, chipping a shot off the crossbar and in just over Sullivan’s leaping arms.
“I just thought we were a little unlucky,” Sullivan said. “In the first 15 minutes, I thought we were dominating the game, honestly, just a couple of mistakes that led to those goals.”
Trailing by two at the half, Centennial (14-3-1) came out with a furious charge to start the second. The Eagles generated several opportunities on net, but were unable to trim the lead.
“These guys are relentless to fight back; two goals down, the nature of it was a little harder,” Thomas said of his halftime message. “In truth, what we’re talking about is you’ve got to keep your head up. We’re making some adjustments, but it’s about keeping your head up and getting a little bit more aggressive. We’ve got to really dig deep and at the same time try to stay calm and confident.”
Despite the Eagles’ best attempts to trim the deficit, Tuscarora’s defense kept Centennial off the board as the second half progressed. Then, the Titans extended their lead in the 73rd minute as Stevenson scored on a rebound. Even in the final minutes, the Eagles couldn’t solve the Titans’ defense.
Centennial still completed the season with several accomplishments. Headlined by an experienced senior group, the Eagles finished as Howard County champions for the second straight season and captured a Class 3A East Region I title. While they didn’t finish with the ultimate result they’d hoped for, the Eagles returned to the big stage they’d been seeking.
“It means a lot to us,” senior Riley Senisi said. “Ever since last year, we’ve been pushing ourselves every day to get better. To see it pay off and to get this far is just incredible. To show these younger guys the experience and what it takes to be as best as we can, it was great. Hopefully they’ll take it over.”
“It’s a really tough loss, but I don’t want it to negate anything from our whole season,” Sullivan added. “We’ve done a lot. Having a really heavy senior team, all these guys, I’ve played with them since middle school and just happy I’ve been able to play the sport I love, making it to the last game we could.”