The North Carroll boys soccer team would like to be a regional champion.
For now, the Panthers will have to be content with learning from one as Class 2A North region champion Hereford defeated host North Carroll, 3-0, in Hampstead last night.
The Bulls, who were playing in their first game of the season, received goals from three juniors - back Ryan Lehrl, midfielder Michael Rider and forward Blake Gunther - to secure the win.
Panthers junior midfielder Russell Portney said the team (0-2) is hopeful that it will soon carry the reputation of a regional champion, much like Hereford did last night.
"That's what we want," Portney said. "That's what we're looking for. We just have to keep working for it."
When asked if he would like to see his team be the next Hereford, North Carroll coach Chuck Beaver said, "To a certain degree, yes, but we have to take baby steps first. There are things we have to do to solidify the whole field before we can realize our expectations."
One of the lessons Beaver will most likely stress in the coming weeks is team-wide defense, which broke down several times against the Bulls. Hereford out-shot the Panthers, 9-6, in the first half.
At the 11:28 mark, Lehrl moved up from his defensive position and corralled a rebound about 25 yards away from the North Carroll net. He booted a shot that skipped past senior goalkeeper Shawn Hampt (six saves) and into the left corner.
Almost 12 minutes later, Lehrl was on the offensive again. This time, he carried the ball down the right sideline before centering it. Rider ran around a Panthers defender and launched himself horizontally to head the ball into the net to give the Bulls a 2-0 lead.
Hereford closed out the scoring just 35 seconds into the second half. Gunther dribbled down the right sideline, stopped to elude another North Carroll defender and lofted a left-footed shot over Hampt's outstretched hands and into the top left corner.
The game turned physical as players from both teams shoved each other on some close plays. Lehrl was ejected in the 43rd minute after receiving his second yellow card for vulgar language.
Panthers players and fans endured a frightening scene in the 62nd minute when senior forward Shawn Czajkowski violently collided with Bulls junior goalkeeper Charles Barker, who rushed out of the net to grab a bouncing ball.
Barker was taken to a local hospital to get stitches to close a gash on the bridge of his nose, but Czajkowski got the worst of the collision.
He suffered a fractured upper jaw and a concussion. The game was delayed for 45 minutes as an ambulance was called to the scene to take Czajkowski to a hospital.
Hampt seemed to be shaken by the incident.
"I just watched my best friend get taken off the field," he said. "I really wasn't paying attention to anything else."
Hereford coach Glenn Quinn, who personally spoke to the North Carroll players to quell any bad feelings after the game, was sympathetic.
"You hate to see anyone get hurt," he said. "It was one of those hard collisions."