Top-ranked Centennial faced a tough week, having to play No. 5 Bel Air Tuesday and No. 6 Wilde Lake yesterday.
But the Eagles emerged from the week unscathed, thanks to a 1-0 win at Wilde Lake on a Matt Stephenson goal in the 65th minute.
That victory extended two-time defending Class 3A state champion Centennial's winning streak to 34 games and its unbeaten streak to 37 games. The Eagles also are unbeaten in 38 straight league games, dating back to 1990.
Centennial (3-0 overall, 1-0 league) is ranked third in the country in the Umbro poll conducted by the National Coaches Association of America.
Wilde Lake (1-2-1, 0-1), a state Class 2A finalist last season, returned most of its team and always seems to play its best against Centennial. Yesterday's Howard County league opener was no exception.
"It was frustrating at first," Stephenson said. "Their offside trap was working, so I knew we'd have to play great ball, or else I'd have to dribble through the defense in order to score."
What happened was a throw-in by Matt Laycock to striker Matt Walton, who made a quick pass to an uncovered Stephenson on the left side. Stephenson's right-footed kick from about 10 yards out was too quick for Wilde Lake goalkeeper Nick Parypinski, who had come up big on three other shots.
It was Stephenson's sixth goal in three games. He also scored all three goals in Tuesday's win over Bel Air.
"Wilde Lake gave us our best game last season, too," Laycock said. "I can't remember the last time we were held to one goal. Wilde Lake was up for the game, and their coach [Dave Nesbitt] is a very good technical coach."
Wilde Lake senior midfielder David Briefel, who played for several seasons on the same club team with Laycock, blamed himself for the loss.
"I wish I had been more of a factor. Just about everyone else stepped up, because for a lot of these guys this was the biggest game they'll ever play," said Briefel, who was All-County last season.
"We expected Stephenson to put pressure on us and we took away their speed with our trap. Our two defensive halfbacks, Chris Matheson and Lars Berg, were sharp today. We just weren't able to hold the ball up top for long in their half of the field."
Wilde Lake had only one shot on goal. Briefel took it from inside the 18-yard line, but booted it right at Centennial goalkeeper Christian Lewis.
"They gave us only one good opportunity, and you have to take advantage of it," Briefel said.
Pub Date: 9/28/96