Wildecats, Eagles keeping tradition alive


In each of the past three seasons, Howard County high schools have won two of the four state boys soccer championships.

Centennial and Wilde Lake earned state-title shots Friday and are hoping to continue the county's dominance for a fourth straight season this Saturday when they play for Class 3A and 1A titles, respectively.

Centennial (13-1-1) faces Whitman at 5 p.m. at Old Mill. The Vikings handed Centennial its only loss this season, 2-1 in overtime on Oct. 5. But the Eagles beat Whitman twice last season, 1-0, including in the state-championship game.

The Eagles, who have five freshmen and seven sophomores, will be underdogs to Whitman, which starts all seniors and juniors and has only one sophomore.

The Vikings have All-American Judah Cooks, whose leaping shot with four minutes left in the second 10-minute sudden-death overtime beat Centennial last month, ending the Eagles' 36-game unbeaten streak.

Centennial held Whitman scoreless for the first half and went ahead 1-0 on a goal by Brian West early in the second half, but was unable to hold off the highly talented Vikings.

It will be the second straight game in which the Eagles face an All-American. The other was last Saturday when they beat the David Hayes-led Thomas Stone Cougars in the state semifinal. Hayes (33 goals) was held scoreless by freshman marking back Matt Stephenson in the 3-0 decision.

Centennial is 41-1-5 over the past three seasons and will be shooting for its third straight state title and sixth overall. Only two other teams -- Wilde Lake and Hereford -- have won three straight state titles. And only four teams -- Oakland Mills, Bowie, Rockville and Wilde Lake -- have won as many as six championships. Oakland Mills and Bowie have won seven.

The Eagles, led by senior All-County goalkeeper Dan Christine, have 10 shutouts and have outscored opponents 50-8.

In addition to Christine, they have just two other seniors, starting fullback Allen Alejandro and starting midfielder Morgan Kershner goals). Alejandro plays a key role with his long throw-ins.

West (15 goals) leads the team in scoring and has been marked all season. His speed, quickness and skills enable him to break loose despite double-teaming. Matt Stephenson (11 goals) has teamed up with West for most of the season.

Freshman Brian Otten has held a starting midfield spot since the Whitman game, but played up top against Thomas Stone and drew a key penalty kick.

Sophomore Cory Piette has played well in a starting outside midfield role.

Centennial's only loss in a state-title game was in 1982. It was also the last time a county team lost a championship game. County teams have won 15 straight championship games and 21 of 23 overall.

Wilde Lake (9-4-2) takes on Easton in a 2:30 p.m. game Saturday at Old Mill.

Wildecats coach Dave Nesbitt thinks the Warriors are an aggressive, short-passing, patient team with good speed up top.

"Our kids know their kids because they spent a week together at Lincoln Philips' summer camp," Nesbitt said.

Wilde Lake starts four seniors and has shown composure in tight games.

The Wildecats have won four 1-0 games and three 2-1 contests. They have seven shutouts.

Junior goalkeeper John Beakes has played throughout the playoffs, but had been sharing playing time with senior David Rutstein, who has a sprained thumb.

"Beakes has come up big in the last two games for us," Nesbitt said.

The rest of the defense rotates among juniors Josh Briefel, Jeff Curtis, Brandon Haus and Chad Whipkey and sophomore Jeremy Young. Young won the regional championship game against Boonsboro with a long direct kick.

Wilde Lake is going for its seventh state title, which would tie Oakland Mills and Bowie for most state titles. The Wildecats are the only team to win four straight state titles, a feat accomplished from 1981 through 1984 under former coach Jack Thomas.

"It helps that we have Scott Conroy, who played on three of those state-title teams, as our assistant coach," Nesbitt said. "He offers a great example, some continuity and past perspective."

Senior striker Brian Jefferson (eight goals) and sometime-fullback Jeff Curtis (10 goals) lead the team in scoring, but nine different Wildecats have scored.

"Everyone has carried the burden and we've had exceptional senior leadership," Nesbitt said.

Wilde Lake started slowly at 5-4-1 but has gone 4-0-1 in its last five games. Close games have been the norm as it has outscored its opponents by only 30-26.

"It's been a very satisfying year," Nesbitt said. "We've had some luck and the younger players have had a chance to play."

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