When North County coach Steve Malone looked at all the quality Class 4A soccer programs trying to squeeze into the playoffs this year, he said, "There will probably be at least two good teams left out."
His Knights aren't playing like one of those squads destined to be pushed aside.
Senior forward Troy Hoskins scored twice in the second half yesterday to lead No. 9 North County past No. 13 Chesapeake, 2-0, in Linthicum.
Senior midfielder Chris Cosentino and senior sweeper Corey Houghton had assists for the Knights (4-0), who have outscored opponents, 11-1.
Hoskins' first goal came on a header at 1:16. "It was a nice chip by Chris, and I just gave it a little flick," he said.
He did more than that on the second goal -- his fourth of the season -- at 10:24. Hoskins gathered a pass from Houghton, got the shot off and had to leap over sliding Chesapeake goalkeeper John Smith.
Earlier in the half, Hoskins had beaten Smith, a transfer from Mount St. Joseph, but he was denied a goal when Chesapeake senior fullback Sean Murphy redirected the ball near the left post.
The Cougars (2-2), losers of two in a row, nearly scored in the first minute of the game when a shot from senior Fred Sporrer hit the left post. Later in the half, a header by Chesapeake junior Keith Hare barely missed to the right.
"We had more opportunities today than we did Tuesday against Broadneck [in a 1-0 loss]," said Chesapeake coach Earl Eckhardt, who welcomed 15 players from last season. "We're not creating good opportunities for ourselves, though."
Usually, when the Cougars drew close to North County junior goalkeeper Matt Collins, one of the Knights' defenders got their foot or chest on the ball. Houghton knocked down a shot in front of Collins shortly after Hoskins' second goal, and senior fullback Matt Lentz did likewise minutes later.
Collins has started every game, with incumbent Ryan Seggerty moving to halfback because of a hand injury. Collins played on the junior varsity last season, and he's the only non-senior on a defensive unit that also includes stopper Mike Malone and fullback Justin Thompson.
"The defense was strong again and that's a tribute to all 11 players," said Malone, whose team is trying to return to the state semifinals.
"You can't just count on the four backs and the goalkeeper to play defense. If you do, you're going to get burned."
Lentz said, "We knew we had a strong defense coming into the year, so [Seggerty's injury] wasn't really that big of a concern. And Matt's a good keeper."
North County outshot the Cougars, 16-5, in the first half, but couldn't break through.
"I was concerned [at halftime], but I was still concerned until there were five seconds left in the game," Malone said, laughing. "I knew they weren't going to score two goals in five seconds, especially when we had the ball on a free kick."
Chesapeake will try to end its losing streak next week against Old Mill, a region finalist last year. Then, the Cougars will take their chances against No. 11 Severna Park.
"It doesn't get any easier," Eckhardt said.