They've taken decidedly different roads, but both Centennial and Wilde Lake have ended up at the same destination -- the state boys soccer championships at Old Mill High School.
Top-ranked Centennial (16-0) puts its 30-game win streak on the line in the Class 3A championship game tomorrow at 5 p.m. against Bel Air (11-4-1), a team it defeated earlier this season, 2-0.
The Eagles shoot for their seventh state title and fourth in the last five years. Bel Air has never won a state title.
Six-time state champion Wilde Lake (8-5-3), which has won four straight playoff games, tangles with two-time state champion Patapsco (15-2-1) in the Class 2A championship at noon.
Wilde Lake's last state title was in 1991. The Wildecats lost in the finals in 1993. Patapsco's last state title was 1977.
The Eagles (16-0) are a team that has had little problem scoring goals. Their total of 59 is the team's best in recent years.
They've won every game but last Saturday's storm-swept 1-0 state semifinal by two or more goals, and have given up just six goals. They are ranked fifth in the nation by USA Today.
Unlike Centennial, No. 15 Wilde Lake has experienced a lot of scoring problems.
Wilde Lake boys soccer coach Dave Nesbitt proved prophetic in his preseason comments about the Wildecats.
"The key is whether we can score," said Nesbitt.
During its 12 regular-season games the Wildecats scored more than one goal only three times and had a 4-5-3 record. They were shut out three times, held to one goal six times and scored 18 goals -- six of them against St. Mary's.
In the four playoff games the Wildecats have done an about-face by scoring 13 goals despite horrible weather conditions for two games.
"We're starting to create a lot of scoring situations," Nesbitt said.
He thinks that losing to Oakland Mills, 3-0, midway through the season was a positive thing for his team.
"We were outplayed by Oakland Mills and worked hard to improve," he said.
Two games later the Wildecats lost to Centennial, 2-0, in a game Nesbitt thinks was the team's turning point.
"That's when they realized they could play with most teams," he said. "They sensed they were competitive, and our level of play has been much more consistent since then."
The Wildecats avenged their worst loss by beating Oakland Mills in the Class 2A South Region semifinal, 4-1.
Then they survived terrible weather conditions to beat Glenelg in overtime, 2-1, and even worse conditions to defeat Parkside, 1-0.
Sophomore goalkeeper Nick Parypinski, helped by a defensive line that includes sophomores Lars Berg, Steve Feddor and Matt Shapiro, and senior sweeper Jeremy Young, has five shutouts.
Wilde Lake likes to attack on the ground, and its starting midfield includes senior captain Mike Riismandel (five goals), junior ODP regional team pool member David Briefel (10 goals, four assists), sophomore Jesse McDonough and junior Nick Wexler.
"Briefel gets things going for us," Nesbitt said.
Starting at forward is junior Solee Saah (five goals, seven assists) and senior Giordano Filliponi.
Wilde Lake's state championship opponent, Patapsco, played only one common opponent, Howard. Patapsco beat the Lions, 2-0. Wilde Lake tied Howard, 1-1.
The Wildecats probably will be the youngest team in the state finals because they start five sophomores, three juniors and three seniors.
Centennial is a veteran team in its fifth straight state championship game. It lost only one of those -- to Whitman in 1993.
In the past five years the Eagles have a 72-2-7 record.
Defense normally is the backbone of the team. Goalkeeper Christian Lewis skillfully has filled the shoes of All-Metro Player of the Year Brock Yetso, who is now at Virginia.
Lewis, and defensive teammates Brian Otten, Cort Yetso, Kumi Walker and sweeper Ben Stephenson have combined for 13 shutouts.
But the story of the season has been their exquisite offensive play, the brilliant one-touch passing and ability to find the open man.
Strikers Brian West (15 goals, 17 assists) and Matt Stephenson (11, eight), and midfielders Matt Laycock (12, six) and Cory Piette (eight, seven) give the Eagles many scoring options.
The other starting midfielders are Scott Johnson and Mike McDonald, with Marcus Lages and Andrew Peverly the top subs.
"The first time we played Bel Air played well and held us scoreless in the first half. West had to score two nice ones in the second half," Stara said. "But we were without three starters and the field was a mess."