Keith Smith capped an outstanding game with a goal 41 seconds into overtime to give visiting North Harford an 8-7 victory over Fallston in a matchup of two of the best Harford County League teams last night.
There was one lead change sandwiched around two ties as the teams saved their best for the last four minutes of the fourth quarter. Fittingly, two midfielders who had waged a friendly battle all evening -- Todd Paradise of Fallston and Smith -- were in the spotlight.
First it was Paradise, bothered by the flu and gasping for breath, who brought the Cougars level at 6 with 3:41 left. It appeared over when attack C.J. Lauer, hobbling on an injured knee, worked free to score over defender Nick Thomson at 1:18.
Jay James outfought Paradise for control of the faceoff, got the ball to Smith, and he went in one-on-one against goalkeeper Joe Dontell. It took just 14 seconds for the tying goal.
"I was just in the right place at the right time, " Smith said of the winning goal. "Mike Murray set it up with a long pass, Jim Weston came out of a crowd in front of the goal with the ball and flicked it to me."
Smith ended with four goals and three assists for the Hawks (8-3). Paradise had three goals, and Jason Goodman, two, for Fallston (7-3), which had a seven-game winning streak halted.
"We had a week to prepare for this one, and two areas where we worked well were ground balls and the effort James gave us on the faceoffs," North Harford coach John Grubb said. "And we knew we had to stop Paradise. He's a heck of a player."
Fallston coach John Conley said he had scouted North Harford, but did not over-emphasize the game to his players. "We simply wanted to let them know the North Harford tendencies," he said.
The two defenses, especially the keepers, were outstanding. Joe Dontell, a senior, had 14 stops for Fallston, and Russell Smith, the third goalkeeper used this season by the Hawks after the first two had academic problems, had 15.
"This was really the first game he's played -- at least the first in which he's been tested," Grubb said.
Kernan Kelly, Steve Carey, and Trevor Kolego worked in front of Dontell, and Thomson, Jason Sikora, and Jon Kozlowski did the job in front of Russell Smith.
On only two occasions did as many as two goals separate these rivals, and each time the trailer countered in less than a minute. The last came at 7:51 of the fourth quarter when Murray converted a feed from Eric Barger for a 6-4 North Harford advantage.
Matt Fantom, one of Fallston's three sophomore midfielders, made it 6-5 57 seconds later, and Paradise tied in out of an extra-man situation.
Keith Smith said it for his North Harford teammates when he said, "We prepared all week for this one. This was the one we wanted."