Dulaney coach Craig Laferty knew his team faced an uphill battle in the playoffs. Competing in the same region with fifth-ranked Perry Hall made a date in the state semifinals seem ++ almost out of reach.
"Uphill? We had a mountain to climb," said Laferty. "But in this game, you always have a shot."
Yesterday, in the Class 4A, North Region final at Essex Community College, the 15th-ranked Lions took theirs and came away with a surprising 3-0 victory over the previously unbeaten Gators.
Dulaney (10-2-1) advances to the Class 4A state semifinals on Friday against a team to be determined.
After losing to Perry Hall, 3-1, in late October, Laferty knew the only way to win was to stop the Gators from scoring early. Yesterday, he had his team lay back in a defensive posture for the entire first half in an attempt to thwart Perry Hall's potent front line.
The plan worked perfectly, and the Lions went into halftime loaded with confidence and a 1-0 lead.
"It was just great team defense," said Laferty. "We wanted to shut them down early. We thought we needed to throw away the offense and keep them from scoring.
"We came out to play 80 minutes of soccer. Last time we played them, we only played 40."
Dulaney took a 1-0 lead just 5:13 into the game, after midfielder Matt Rich fed forward Eddie Liu with a long pass from midfield. Perry Hall goalie Jeremy Meyer came streaking out of the box to try to smother the ball, but Liu got off a weak shot before he arrived, and the ball dribbled into the goal.
After an intense and evenly played first half, the Lions extended their lead to 2-0 at 3:51 of the second half on a goal similar to their first.
Bill Siciliano took a pass near midfield, dribbled in and fired a shot past Meyer, who again had streaked out in an attempt to cut off the shot.
Perry Hall (13-1) had a number of chances to cut into the lead -- and in fact outshot Dulaney, 17-12 -- but each time came up short. Their best chance came late in the game, when Greg Stark put a hard grounder off the left post.
The Lions seemed to get stronger as the game went on, rallying behind each goal and each defensive stop.
"There was no star out here," said Laferty. "It was just a bunch of guys playing heads-up mentally against a great team. To shut out Perry Hall is a tremendous accomplishment."