Against the backdrop of something much more important, Mount St. Joseph and Cardinal Gibbons battled to a 2-2 tie in Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference Division II soccer yesterday.
But for the visiting Gaels (7-1-1, 4-1-1), the game's significance paled in comparison with the absence of their spiritual leader, center midfielder Maury LaPoint, who was at his ailing mother's side at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Coach Mike Dolan said the sixth-ranked Gaels played knowing that LaPoint's mother was near death with an undisclosed ailment.
"Things like this put soccer in its proper perspective," said Dolan.
Dolan said it was the latest of several tragic events, which included the deaths of one player's uncle and another's brother.
"These kids have been through a rough week, yet they've stayed strong," said Dolan. "I'm very proud of them."
LaPoint's absence prevented what shaped up as an interesting battle between talented center midfielders, with Steve Wojciechowski (nine goals, seven assists) running the show for the Crusaders.
The Gaels -- last year's MSA A Conference runners-up -- battled back from from deficits of 1-0 and 2-1.
Gibbons' Danny Catlett (nine goals, 13 assists) scored off an assist from D. J. Szyjka (five, five) to put the Crusaders ahead 2-1 at halftime, but the Gaels had the game's final goal by Joe Vogel, midway through the second period.
Mount St. Joseph had the best chance to score in the first of two five-minute overtimes, but with no one between him and the goalkeeper, scoring leader Steve Matcuk (11 goals, eight assists) kicked his 12-yard shot wide to the left.
Gibbons (8-2-1, 4-1-1), which this week entered The Baltimore Sun's Top 15 at No. 14, established the early tempo behind Wojciechowski and its high-scoring front line of Catlett, Szyjka and Robert Holderfield (10 goals, nine assists).
Although the teams finished the first half even in shots on goal (nine) and corner kicks (two), the Crusaders had early leads, 5-0 and 2-0, in each category.
Szyjka produced his squad's 1-0 lead with 28:46 left in the half.
Gaels keeper John Smith was out of position on his left after blocking a hard shot by Holderfield. Smith's two-handed attempt couldn't stop the ball's momentum as it dropped at the feet of Szyjka, who was waiting near the right post to kick it into an empty net.
The Gaels' defense stiffened behind sweeper Vito Monti and stopper Sean Gaiser, who redirected the ball into the offense.
Matcuk got a break when a hand ball in the penalty box was ruled against the Crusaders, and Matcuk put his penalty kick to the right of keeper Ryan Beaumont to tie the game with 28:46 left in the half.
"We lost our focus after that," said Wojciechowski. "We came in here feeling we couldn't lose, but you could just tell that after the penalty kick we were never the same."