In a battle of unbeaten teams Tuesday, both River Hill and Wilde Lake learned plenty about themselves.
A full 100 minutes of game action, however, wasn’t enough to determine a winner.
River Hill scored twice in the first half after falling behind and hung tough despite playing a man down because of a red card for the final 43 minutes of game action. Host Wilde Lake, meanwhile, battled back from a deficit at intermission to become the first team this season to score twice on the Hawks.
In the end, the two teams settled for a 2-2 tie and with the result River Hill (7-0-1 county, 9-0-1 overall) maintains a half-game lead over Wilde Lake (6-0-2, 9-0-2) for both first place in the county and the top seed in the 2A South Section I region playoffs.
“Our goal is to host in the playoffs, which I think gives us the best opportunity [to succeed], and after today we are still in the driver’s seat to do that,” River Hill coach Matt Shagogue said. “Did we want a better result from today? Absolutely. But our goals still haven’t changed.
“Wilde Lake is a good team, they played well today and the hope is that we learn some lessons this game that will make ourselves better moving forward.”
None of the goals scored by either of the two teams came though the run of play.
Wilde Lake scored first off a free kick by Liam Nesbitt that was headed over the goal line by Jack Swain with 12:12 left in the first half.
River Hill then immediately responded.
The Hawks’ first score came on a penalty kick by Justin Harris after a foul at the top of the box with 7:01 left before intermission. Then less than five minutes later, Harris sent a free kick into the box that Julian Elguera headed into the upper right corner of the net for a 2-1 Hawks lead.
“Set Pieces, that’s ultimately what this game came down to … all four goals. And we knew that going in,” Wilde Lake coach Trevor Shea said. “We spent a lot of time going over the corners, throw-ins and everything in practice.”
The real challenge for Shea was keeping his team mentally in it at the break after River Hill had stolen all the momentum. For a program that hasn’t won a county title since 2010 and has several close losses to River Hill in recent years, previous Wildecats’ teams may have gotten discouraged.
But this year’s group rallied, ultimately getting the equalizer on a free kick by Kofi Bonsu from just outside the penalty box with 23:50 remaining in regulation.
“It took a lot of talking at halftime to be able to get them into that mindset of getting over the fact that we were down,” Shea said. “I told them you can’t feel sorry for yourselves, you have to step up. Honestly, what it came down to was us playing together more and that’s exactly what they did.”
On the play that set up Bonsu’s score, Elguera was issued a red card for a foul on a breakaway. The Hawks were forced to play with 10 players the rest of the contest.
Despite being shorthanded, Shagogue said he was pleased with his team’s fight — particularly during overtime when River Hill generated a couple of quality scoring chances that could have decided the game.
While nothing found the net for either team down the stretch, that ability to play through some adversity is something that he says bodes well for the approaching postseason.
“We had some good chances in overtime and that was while we had to do some different things [with positioning] after the red card. We stayed aggressive and that was something I was happy to see,” Shagogue said.
As for Wilde Lake, the tie means that the team will need either a tie or loss by River Hill down the stretch in order to have a chance at the county crown. The Hawks have games remaining against Atholton, Long Reach and Reservoir.
But future games aside, Shea says his team got something extremely valuable out of this contest.
“We needed to come in and say, ‘Hey, we can play with you guys.’ Not let them bully us and push us around,” Shea said. “At halftime, we were leaning right on that [edge]. But we pulled up our pants, put on our helmets and went to war … and that’s what it takes.
“We could very well see them again come playoffs and I think today showed that we can play with them.”
River Hill (7-0-1 county, 9-0-1 overall) — 2, Wilde Lake (6-0-2, 9-0-2) — 2 2OT
Goals: RH – Justin Harris, Julian Elguera; WL – Jack Swain, Kofi Bonsu.
Assists: RH – Harris; WL – Liam Nesbitt.
Saves: RH – Pat Sherlock 6; WL – Gabriel Viteri 7.
Half: 2-1 RH.
Reach Brent Kennedy at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @BKBSunSports