Holding visiting Fallston to just eight shots, No. 6 Centennial dominated the air and jump-started the offense with long clears in a 3-1 boys soccer victory for the Howard County team.
Eagles sweeper Matt Hashimoto plugged up the center of the field all afternoon, winning nearly every 50-50 ball and calmly sending passes to his attacking midfielders to start quick counterattacks.
"Fallston was quick, physical and moved the ball fairly well, but after 10 or 15 minutes, we adjusted to their style and played the way we needed to," Hashimoto said.
Left fullback Garrett Anderson is Centennial's most physical defender and proved impenetrable in the air and on the ground.
"Fallston came out the strongest of any team we've played," Anderson said. "They are also the quickest team we've played. But it helps having three of your four defenders returning."
It was the first loss of the season for the No. 7-ranked Cougars under first-year coach Christopher Hoover, who said his team needs to focus on taking more shots.
"It's been two weeks since our last game, so it's hard to shake the rust, but I'm pretty happy with the way we played," he said. "Centennial turned up the pressure when they had to."
Fallston (1-1) of Harford County scored first in the 19th minute on a kick by Chris Baum, who retrieved a loose corner kick that Centennial failed to clear and calmly deposited it into the upper right corner from his position a few yards outside the left post.
Centennial (3-0) tied it when Greg Long, racing to the far post, softly volleyed Mark Johnson's crossing free kick from the left side over the charging goalkeeper in the 25th minute.
Fallston's Marco Barresi blasted a hooking, dangerous shot on goal from midfield before halftime, but Centennial's freshman goalkeeper Andy Wilhelm handled it.
Stretching Fallston's defense constantly, Centennial moved the ball from one side to the other and scored the game-winning goal in the 55th minute on a left-footed shot at the 18-yard line by Ryan Oates.
In the 70th minute, Fallston's Chad Bauer misfired on a shot from 15 yards out, shanking it into the side of the net and squandering Fallston's last good scoring opportunity.
Centennial's J.R. Test finally finished off the Cougars in the 79th minute, converting from 35 yards out after he noticed the Fallston goalkeeper drifting off his line.
"I wish we had gotten that shot about 15 minutes earlier," Centennial coach Jim Zehe told his team afterward. "We played 60 minutes of quality soccer, and one of these days we're going to play 80 minutes and really be tough to beat."
Centennial faces another ranked team Monday, traveling to No. 13 Dulaney.