With a 32-4 advantage in shots, it figured that Old Mill would have last night's boys soccer game well in hand. But it took a hand-ball violation on North County's Corey Houghton to assure the 15th-ranked Patriots of a 3-1 victory.
Houghton, a senior sweeper, leaped in front of an open net and deflected a shot from Old Mill's Jeremey Schneider with co-No. 8 North County leading, 1-0, at 8:15 of the second half. Houghton was issued a red card and the Patriots' Mike Mazzola was awarded a penalty kick.
Knights goalkeeper Matt Collins came up with a diving stop, but an official ruled that he moved before Mazzola had made contact with the ball. Given a second chance, Mazzola scored just inside the right post for a 1-1 tie.
Playing a man down for the rest of the game, North County (6-1) survived a barrage of shots until junior midfielder Joe Venturella rose above a crowd that included Collins and headed in a pass from Mazzola with about 19 minutes remaining. Senior Neil Cotherman added an insurance goal at 38:47, and Old Mill (6-0-2) had its first victory over North County.
"The kid [Houghton] went on instinct," said Patriots coach Don Hobbs, whose team lost to North County twice last year, 3-2. "I'm 100 percent sure the ball was going in. His instinct is to try to save the goal. I'm sure he didn't think that an intentional block like that is a red card."
North County coach Steve Malone said, "It's a decision that a player makes and you don't think about what the consequences are going to be. The ball's going in and he's doing what he can to get it out. You can't criticize a kid for that play."
Hobbs wondered how long it would take for Old Mill to score the tie-breaking goal. Collins made a couple of leaping saves to preserve the tie and his teammates stayed back to offer some assistance while hoping to get a transitional goal.
"We thought we might be like a boxer who just pounds a guy on the ropes and punches himself out," Hobbs said.
North County was without three starters, including senior stopper Mike Malone, who received a red card during last Friday's 4-0 win over Northeast. The Knights hadn't played since then because Tuesday's game at Broadneck was postponed due to a wet field.
Also missing for North County last night were senior halfback Ryan Seggerty with a knee injury and junior midfielder/forward Peter Merrill with muscle spasms in his back. Their status is uncertain for Monday's make-up game with Broadneck, but Houghton will have to sit out under a new state rule that says a player being issued a red card for any reason cannot participate in the following game, even if the ejection wasn't for fighting.
Despite the makeshift lineup, North County took a 1-0 lead at 19:16 when senior Emmanuel Uche scored off a crossing pass from Matt Lentz. At that point, the Knights were being outshot, 8-3, but Collins (13 saves) had kept Old Mill at bay.