Perry Hall sweeper Brian Neiberlein didn't like being without his backfield mate, stopper Chris Ude, even though the Gators appeared to be in control in last week's 3-1 victory over Dulaney.
Shortly after giving the Gators a 3-0 lead with his sixth goal in the 37th minute, Ude injured his foot and missed the majority of the second half.
Perry Hall was under more pressure without Ude to redirect 12th-ranked Dulaney's attack, said Neiberlein, and the Lions scored in the game's 59th minute.
"I moved up to stopper and didn't feel comfortable without him in there. There was a big difference," said Neiberlein, a member of Ude's junior class.
"When he's in there, he's more like a center halfback, pushing the ball out to the wings and winning just about every head ball. I'm glad we'll be together this year and next year."
Ude (6 feet 3, 180 pounds) played like a midfielder last year as well, scoring nine goals with three assists to earn second-team All-County honors.
"I like being able to set up plays, so that my teammates can finish, kind of like being the middleman," said Ude.
"I might not get as many assists as last year, but since we have so many guys who can score, I can concentrate more on defense."
No. 4 Perry Hall has a balanced team, having outscored the opposition 77-7 behind Scott Kennell (22 goals, 10 assists), Greg Stark (19, nine), Jeff Patterson (six, nine) and Brian Doherty (four, eight).
The Gators (12-0, 11-0) have won their second straight Baltimore County 3A-4A league title and have clinched the top seed for this week's 4A North Region playoffs.
Perry Hall has five shutouts.
For the playoffs, Ude might choose to stay back on defense with Neiberlein, senior Scott Yeager and sophomore Adam Nastalski. But he can threaten if the Gators are pressuring the other goal, hovering near the top of the penalty area where he can pounce on a stray clear or a rebound.
"With a more potent offense, I've taken more responsibility in the back. But sometimes Coach [Ed Wolf] wants me to come up top when we're pushing up, and wait for the ball to come out," said Ude. "I've been able to come up top from time to time when the team is struggling, set up someone, or just flick the ball into the net."
That's what happened against Dundalk in a battle of unbeatens. Ude's perfectly aimed 35-yarder went in over the keeper's out-stretched hands.
"He's got an powerful shot, passes well and he's an excellent tactician with all the right skills. He knows how to take control in a game," said Wolf, whose two-time county champions were regional runners-up last season.
"He might give an offensive player the impression that he's got more room than there is, then he's going to take the ball. You've got to go through him to get by him."
Ude has played soccer since he was 4, and his 3.5 grade-point average may make him an attractive college prospect.
But he's also a solid baseball player. The right-hander's three-pitch arsenal last season included an 80-mph fastball. He also played shortstop.
"I never expected to be this important," said Ude, switching back to soccer. "I just expected to contribute to the team's success. But I have to say, I like being one of the main guys."