It was a tale of two halves for Howard on Tuesday in the 4A North region quarterfinals against Springbrook.
Following an opening 40 minutes where the top-seeded Lions found themselves trailing 1-0, the team regrouped at the break to get back to its style of play and break things open on the way to a 4-1 victory.
"When we were coming out on the field for the second half, I was trying to rally our boys up and get a little more energy because in the first half they wanted it more than us honestly," said Howard's Caine McKinney, who started the comeback with a breakaway goal three minutes into the second half. "I just thought they took the game to us first half and then second half we changed our game a little bit and started attacking more and taking the game to them. I think that really helped."
Howard coach Nils Schroder said the difference between the two halves simply came down to execution.
"We just couldn't connect in the first half, and we had plenty of opportunities," Schroder said. "We fixed some things and suddenly we had someone on that back post on those long throws and crosses. We had someone there to finish. It was just as simple as executing what we know we can do."
Springbrook had grabbed the early 1-0 advantage, as Carlos Rodriguez scored off a free kick with 14 minutes left in the opening half. That advantage held up through the break.
Howard, however, immediately began pushing forward out of intermission. Kevin Whipple nearly knotted the score on a header in front off a long throw two minutes out of halftime. Then, less than a minute later, Zach Coyle played a thru-ball to McKinney to officially put the Lions on the board.
After that, the floodgates opened.
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In the 57th minute, McKinney put a corner kick into the box that deflected out to Matt Blum. The Lions' senior then buried a hard-low shot off the right post into the back of the net to make it 2-1.
Nine minutes later, Coyle had a long free kick that deflected off a Springbrook defender and into the goal to up the lead to two. Then finally, roughly 30 seconds after the team's third goal, Howard struck again.
This time it was Monseff Marakchi converting a long feed from Andrei Shiller.
"We like to get in the box and create danger that way," McKinney said. "Once we get the ball down the sidelines like coach preaches and play the way we know how to play, we can definitely get some goals in like that. And obviously we are dangerous on the set pieces."
Howard's defense kept the lead at three until the final whistle.
The Lions now advance to host Sherwood on Thursday and Shroder said the team's journey is just beginning.
"We think that we can make a deep run and that's what our goal is," Schroder said. "Our goal wasn't just the second round or third round of the playoffs, it was to make a real run. So we're not there yet, but we're on our way. Now we just have to keep it going."