After suffering damage to the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a preseason workout, Andy Wheeler missed Patapsco's first two games of the season.
"I decided not to push it, tried to rest it a little bit," Wheeler said. "I've been going to therapy, putting ice on it."
Scarcely a month later, Wheeler has been icing opponents.
The 6-foot-3 junior striker scorched the visiting, seventh-ranked Perry Hall Gators for three goals in yesterday's 3-1 victory, as the Patriots overcame an early one-goal deficit in a Baltimore County league Division I boys soccer game.
Wheeler tied the game at 1 on a touch shot just in front of the goal off a pass from Ray Kuemmer. He struck again for a 2-1 lead four minutes before halftime on a cross from Chris Fama.
Just over a minute into the second half, Wheeler headed in another cross, this one from Dan Jones.
"We expected to be this good, but now everyone's starting to believe in us," said Wheeler. "All of the attention, I believe, will just make us play better."
The victory raised Patapsco's record to 3-1-1 overall and gave it a 3-0-1 league record -- good for first place in the division. Perry Hall, a 2-1 winner over defending county champ Eastern Tech, is 4-1-1 and 2-1.
Patapsco proved itself a contender with last week's 2-2 draw against No. 8 Eastern Tech, but needed yesterday's victory to rebound from a 3-1 loss to Fallston.
"I thought it would take us a couple of tougher games, possibly a couple of losses, to get where we are," said first-year Patapsco coach Chris Cabral, a member of the Patriots' 1995 Class 2A state championship team. "I believe we're realizing our potential."
Yesterday, the Patriots were missing two injured veterans, and fielded a lineup that included just two seniors.
Jones, a junior, moved from midfield to sweeper without missing a beat. He anchored the defense with Fama, Jesse Dieter, Greg Dewey, Adam Clark and freshman Aaron Wheeler.
"We had trouble with their kick-and-run game at first," said Patapsco keeper Dan Kikola, who made six saves. "After that, I was happy with our defense. Dan filled in really well."
Said Perry Hall's Stephen Pirerra, who scored the game's first goal in the 12th minute off an assist from Mike Velaetis: "They came out ready to play and we didn't."