Centennial boys soccer coaches shared a video of the final minutes of the Eagles’ loss two years to Marriotts Ridge for the Howard County championship with the players. The video shows the Eagles’ desperate attempts to tie the game and the Mustangs erupting in celebration.
Several current Eagles were on that team. Tuesday night, Centennial flipped the script, leaving in elation as the Mustangs left heartbroken. Top seed Centennial defeated No. 6 Marriotts Ridge, 3-2, securing the Class 3A East Region I title and a state quarterfinal appearance.
“Sometimes I think you have to go through the pain in order to understand the situation and understand the pressure,” Centennial coach Justin Thomas said. “I don’t know if they need a reminder, but a reminder of what it feels like, how hard the game is. The game’s not always fair, it can go in any direction but the least you can do is work hard. That experience of understanding the occasion is obviously really important.”
With the game tied at 2 inside the final minute, the Eagles (13-1-1) pushed the ball upfield in transition. Battling a defender on his hip and facing away from the net, senior Riley Senisi chipped a shot toward the net. Mustering enough strength on the shot, the ball deflected in just over the outstretched arms of Mustangs goalie Aidan Houck into the top of the net.
“I wasn’t sure honestly, they kicked my foot and I was looking at my foot,” Senisi said. “I didn’t really know what was going on. I heard everyone cheering, and I was very happy. We scored, but Marriotts Ridge has come back before, so I knew we had to keep working.”
Marriotts Ridge (7-7-1) struck first in the 20th minute. Pushing out wide off a turnover, senior Ryan Zhong’s shot went just past a lunging Kartik Sullivan and hit the post. Junior William Marbray was right there to put in the rebound, giving Marriotts Ridge an early advantage.
However, Centennial evened the game 12 minutes later, taking advantage of a Mustangs miscommunication in the box. Houck came out of the net and was unable to locate the ball. Eagles senior Omar Hassan did and promptly rifled it into the open net.
The score remained tied at 1 at halftime. In the opening 20 minutes of the second half, neither side was able to generate a high-quality chance. That changed in the 63rd minute after a great hustle play from Centennial senior Adam Fowble to give the Eagles a throw-in, a situation in which the generated some of their best chances.
“The first few throws, it takes a while to figure out what the defense is going to do, where the goalie is going to be placed,” Fowble said. “Then after a while, the chemistry gets going and we find a way.”
This time the Eagles converted as Fowble’s throw-in soared to the back post and Kodee Karcher rose above everyone in the box for a header, giving Centennial a 2-1 lead.
“It’s very important to execute on those set pieces because you barely get any chances like that and you just have to finish on every single one,” Karcher said.
Resilient throughout the postseason, Marriotts Ridge answered back in the 73rd minute. After taking a cross, Mustangs senior Mahmoud Babkir transferred the ball from his right foot to his left. Working to create a better angle, Babkir bent the ball around a lunging Sullivan for the game-tying tally.
“It’s beyond words, the resiliency is something that we talked about midway through the season sitting two to three games below .500,” Marriotts Ridge coach Quinn Khouri said. “We said, ‘Hey if we want to turn this into a season where we compete for a championship, compete for a region and state title, we have to be resilient. We have to be able to battle back when things don’t go our way.’ This team has done that the last two games just phenomenally.”
With Marriotts Ridge regaining momentum, Centennial knew it needed to mount one last response. Battling all game, Senisi delivered late with the game-winner.
Shortly after, the Eagles hoisted the regional championship trophy high in the air, turning past heartbreaks into pure elation.
“We’re really working here on character and character first,” Thomas said. “For us, there’s no achievement without character. I think they really showed their character today, going down 1-0, evening the score and then going up 2-1. I’m about to send an extra defender on to close the game down. They score at that moment, that can take all the air out of you, all the momentum. It really shows character and bravery to accept that we made a mistake, it happened and to keep fighting and keep working.”