The weather was about the same, the location was exactly the same and the time of year — late fall — was nearly identical.
The Laurel High boys soccer team hosted Bladensburg in the Class 4A South Region Section I finals for the second season in a row.
But this season, the biggest difference was the winning side.
Laurel, which beat Bladensburg in the playoffs in 2017, couldn’t manage many offensive opportunities and lost, 2-0, to the Mustangs on Nov. 2.
“Honestly, I give them all of the credit they deserve. They are a tough team,” said Bladensburg senior Miguel Contreras, who scored both goals. “It was our redemption day.”
While Bladensburg advanced to the region title game on Nov. 6, against Bowie, Laurel saw its season come to an end in its first year under head coach Daryl Ferguson.
The Spartans were 9-5 overall, after losing in the regional finals in 2017.
“I feel bad for the seniors. They worked hard to get back to this level,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson was a standout at St. John’s College High in Washington, D.C. and played in college in western Pennsylvania at Seton Hill University, which was a Division II program by the time he left.
Ferguson, 33, played pro soccer in North America and spent the previous nine seasons as a coach at DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville, and he was the head coach of the Stags varsity program in 2016-17.
Ferguson replaced his father, Eric, the long-time coach of the Spartans.
“You could tell the difference. We moved the ball more and we had a lot of set pieces,” said Andy Portillo, a senior midfielder for the Spartans.
“I am more a kind of technical coach, a lot more technical and defense first,” Ferguson said earlier this season, when compared to his father. “I am more willing to change formations during games based on what I think will give us an advantage.”
The Spartans lost, 3-1, in regular-season play at Bladensburg in the senior day game for the Mustangs.
“That was high intensity from the beginning,” Bladensburg coach Juliana Ocampos-Barry said.
Ocampos-Barry, in her fourth season, said her team had motivation for that game against Laurel, but came out flat in the playoff contest on the road.
“We really didn’t settle into our game until towards the end of the first half,” she said. “We started finding our passes instead of just kicking it.”
Contreras scored the first goal late in the first half as the Laurel defense could not clear the ball in front of the goal.
“It kind of takes the momentum going into the half,” Ferguson said. “I thought we responded pretty well. Both of their goals came off balls that came out wide. Other than that, I think our boys put the effort in.”
With about 34 minutes left in the second half, Contreras scored again to make it 2-0.
“Our game was to go after their defense with pressure,” Contreras said.
With about 16 minutes left in the game Laurel junior goalie Joel Velasquez injured his leg and left the game and didn’t return.
The Spartans suffered another setback in the closing minutes when co-captain Diego Chavez injured his leg and had to sit out.
Some of the other seniors for the Spartans this year were defenders Mike Figueroa, Sharoz Khan and Cristian Polio, forward Trevor Ndambi and midfielder/forwards Kevon-Ariel Sonkeng and Kevin Ngatou-Chekem.
Ngatou-Chekem had eight goals this season, Figueroa had five and midfielder Portillo had four.
“We have a good group of young kids,” Chavez said. “I feel coach will help them develop more.”
“We have a good, young core,” Ferguson said. “I thought actually the first year went pretty well. For them to adapt to my coaching style, I think it meshed really well. Later on in the season we had a few bumps in the road, we had a few injuries. But overall I think we will compete next year.”