North Harford got big plays from its smallest player and its two returning All-County standouts and the result -- a 1-0 victory over visiting No. 1 Fallston -- produced its biggest county victory in several years.
This was a matchup of 8-0-1 teams and the outcome not only gave North Harford the Harford County championship, but ended Fallston's four-year domination of county teams, a string of successes that had reached 29-0-4 dating back to the start of 1990.
Most of the first-half action was between the two 18-yard lines, with defenses thwarting offensive surges. As a result the goal came with a suddenness that caught players unawares.
Senior midfielder Keith Smith got the goal, off a pass from Kevin Piccolo, a 4-foot-11 sophomore whose skills include good footwork.
Piccolo crossed the ball from deep in the right corner and Smith kicked it through goalkeeper Eric McPhee into the near corner.
Fullback Brett Birkmire tried to cover but couldn't get to the ball in time.
"In those situations, I look for Keith," Piccolo said. "That time I saw him and was able to get the ball there."
"He put the ball right on my foot; their keeper came out, and I was able to slide under him to get off the shot," Smith explained.
Fallston coach Len Petrey, more familiar with the winning side of such nail-biters, was realistic about the final score.
"These things happen. One mistake. There was a little breakdown, we let the ball [from Piccolo] get through and he [Smith] is the kind who can beat you," he said.
Basically, the North Harford defenders were able to smother Fallston's scoring machine, one that had outscored nine foes by a combined 28-1, and its leaders, Mike Giuffrida (13 goals, five assists), and Paul Kelly (eight goals, nine assists).
Stopper Ryan Renfrow had gone through practice Monday working against Smith, preparing himself for the challenge of marking Giuffrida.
His effort, and the close shadowing done by Jay James, Jeff Molen, and Garson Beers kept Fallston off-balance.
"We thought we could play with them, and even though I thought they controlled the middle, they weren't able to finish their runs," said North Harford coach Ed Zorn.
Although goalie David Zorn, the coach's son, did not have to make any acrobatic saves or last-second deflections, he was nevertheless tested.
"It was more mental," he said. "It was communicating with the backs, deciding when to come out and challenge and when to stay back."
Most of Fallston's shots either went wide or over the crossbar, although Zorn had to hold on to two good shots directly at him in the closing minute.
Earlier, he had gone high in the air in the middle of a pack to get a corner kick by Kelly.
Zorn and Beers also had the benefit of offensive weapons, as time and again their kicks not only got their team out of danger but forced the Cougars into restarts from their defensive end.
* Poly 2, Patterson 1: Senior Michael Alt scored twice as Poly (5-1) edged host Patterson (5-1).
Senior Jabier Elola assisted on both goals.