Having graduated almost the entire starting unit from last year’s region championship squad, Howard coach Nils Schroder knew coming into this fall that his team was going to take some lumps early. He openly admitted that regular season record was taking a back seat to making sure his Lions were peaking come playoffs.
At the moment, things are going exactly according to plan.
Howard (7-9-1) got a pair of early goals from Jordan Evans on Friday night against visiting Springbrook and never looked back en route to a 2-0 victory that secures a berth in the 4A North region final for the second straight season.
“We talked right from the beginning about how we had almost 11 new guys starting and that it wasn’t about winning early as much figuring out which guys were going to play the best in which positions,” Schroder said. “We played a bunch of different formations, played guys at a bunch of different positions … just trying to figure out what was going to give us the best chance to win. Over the last three or four weeks we have finally figured it out and the results have followed.”
After starting the season 2-9-1, the Lions have regrouped to win their last five games and that includes a trio of playoff games. Evans, who has three goals in the team’s last two outings, says a 1-0 win over Marriotts Ridge in the last game of the regular season was a big confidence builder.
“As a team, we are working better. Marriotts Ridge, winning that game, really sparked us to work harder and honestly we are just playing way better,” he said. “We have James (Corley), who is an outstanding center back, and have Brendan Hartlove, who is doing amazing in goal … everything is just working out.”
Evans immediately set the tone against Springbrook. On a long throw from the right sideline by Corley, the Lions’ senior forward rose above a crowd in the box and headed the ball into the net.
Then, in the 17th minute of the opening half, Evans struck again. This time he took a through ball from Ryan Simmons and flicked it past the goalie for a two-goal advantage.
“I was feeling it in warm-ups and then just came out here. I usually don’t head the ball much, but I saw an opportunity and scored,” Evans said. “Then the second goal, I made that run off the ball, cut in and finished.”
With the two-goal lead, Howard let its foot off the accelerator a bit and Springbrook began gaining more possession. Still, the Lions never allowed anything too dangerous in their defensive third. On the game, Howard’s goalie Hartlove needed only two saves on his way to securing a shutout.
“We’ve had moments all season long where we get sloppy for five or six minutes, so getting a couple in early like today to get that cushion was extremely important,” Schroder said. “Getting on the board real quick has definitely been something we have emphasized. And we don’t care how we finish, as long as we finish.”
The score stayed 2-0 the entire second half and Howard moved on. Last year’s team broke through to the state semifinals for the program’s first time since 1989 and Schroder says this year’s squad has showed that it wasn’t just a one-year wonder by getting back to the region championship.
“To be back in the game and show everyone that it wasn’t a fluke and we are here to stay … it means a lot,” he said. “Our JV team went undefeated, we are looking forward to the future. I really think we are going to be a force, not only in our region and state moving forward, but in the county as well.”
Century 1, Oakland Mills 0
Visiting Century struck for its goal early in the first half and that’s all the Knights needed to advance into the 2A West region finals against Middletown.
Oakland Mills had plenty of chances to tie things up as the game went on — none better than a shot by Hymad N’Diaye just minutes after the Scorpions fell behind that was saved by a diving Century goalie Matthew Schrodel — but nothing found the net.
“Hymad’s chance right there immediately after they scored that their goalie saved, I turned right away and said ‘remember that one right there.’ That was a momentum changer,” Shea said. “Bottom line, though, we just got outworked all night.”
Century will be trying to win its first region title since 2009. On the other side, Oakland Mills falls short of the state semifinals after making it there each of the last two seasons.