Urbana scored three first-half goals and rolled to a 4-0 win over Howard in the 4A North regional championship game at Frederick High School on Tuesday.
Nicholas Narvaez, Fabian Valenzuela-Ruz, Max Riley and Ryan Herman scored for the Hawks, who won their eighth regional title in school history and first since winning the 3A state championship in 2016. They will face either Bladensburg or Bowie in a state semifinal game Saturday at noon at Henry A. Wise High School in Upper Marlboro.
“This was not a result that was expected but I thought our guys did a really good job sticking with the game plan and playing hard,” said Urbana coach Scott Schartner. “I think it was one of our better performances. Our goal is to get a little bit better every single game in one way, shape or form and I think we did that tonight.”
The Hawks (13-2) dominated the Lions (9-5-1) from the opening whistle and pressed forward immediately. They had multiple touches inside the Howard 18-yard box before finding the back of the net just 4 minutes, 26 seconds in.
Herman possessed the ball in the right corner, and after making a defender fall with some fancy footwork, he slotted a perfectly placed cross toward the back post where Narvaez was all alone to touch it into the empty goal for a 1-0 lead.
The second goal by Valenzuela-Ruz was even more impressive. He hovered over the free kick opportunity 37 yards from the center of goal and boomed his right-footed shot past the outstretched arms of Howard junior goalie Colin Sutch and into the top-left corner of goal.
“That’s kind of [Valenzuela-Ruz’s] wheelhouse,” Schartner said. “When he gets a hold of it, it’s pretty nice to watch.”
Riley, a freshman midfielder, curled in another shot from distance to score the third goal with 16:41 left on the clock in the opening half. Riley sent a well-placed corner kick to the far post, and after a couple bounces in front of goal, he corralled the rebound at the corner of the box, paused and fired a left-footed shot to the near post that deflected off Sutch’s hand and into goal.
“The third goal was kind of a back breaker,” said Lions coach Nils Schroder. “We won the first ball, cleared it and they scooped up the rebound and put it on frame.”
Howard put nine players forward for a corner kick midway through the second half, but a well-executed counter attack by Urbana gave them a 4-0 lead and the chance to empty the bench. Herman and Riley had a two-on-one for 50 yards, and Herman’s pass to Riley was sent back to Herman, who powered a right-footed strike low and to the near post.
Defensively, it was the Hawks’ third shutout in as many playoff games.
“We’re compact defensively and really cutting out a lot in the midfield before it gets to the defensive third,” Schartner said. “The back four do a great job communication and switching and sliding and then Fabian Valenzuela-Ruz is that holding central midfielder who creates a really compact bank of five back there.”
It’s the third time in five years and second in as many seasons that the Lions have lost in the regional final. They won it in 2014 and were looking to advance to the final four for just the third time in program history.
Ultimately, Urbana’s speed and skill was too much for Howard. The four goals allowed are the most in any game over the last two seasons, and it entered the night having let in 15 goals in 14 contests this fall.
“Honestly, it was just kind of a perfect storm,” Schroder said. “They’re a super skilled team, they spread us out and the possessed way more than we did tonight. We were just kind of on our heels from the get go. We didn’t come out with the same intensity that we normally come out with.”
Urbana (13-2) — 4, Howard (9-5-1) — 0
Goals: U — Nicholas Narvaez, Fabian Valenzuela-Ruz, Max Riley, Ryan Herman.
Assists: U — Herman, Riley.
Saves: U — Parker Sherrill 5, Zachary Gibbons 2; Ho — Colin Sutch 8.
Halftime: 3-0, U