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Matt Owusu’s second-half spark lifts McDonogh past Loyola Blakefield, 4-0, in soccer

McDonogh center back Matt Owusu has been playing on a sore ankle most of the soccer season, and a dominant first half by host Loyola Blakefield had him working extra hard on it Wednesday.

But that didn’t stop the standout senior from making a run up the field when he saw an opening five minutes into the second half.

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Eventually, the ball found him on the left side, where he nudged past a defender to get inside the penalty box. He was fouled while beating another defender to earn a penalty kick.

It was the kind of play the defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champions desperately needed, and when Mason Christian converted the ensuing penalty, they were on their way to victory.

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Joel Brown provided an insurance goal midway through the game and Vince Petrera tacked on two late goals as No. 4 McDonogh claimed a 4-0 win over the No. 7 Dons in a rematch of last year’s league championship game.

McDonogh (5-3-1) improved to 3-2 in the MIAA, while Loyola (3-3-1) fell to 1-2-1.

Owusu, sturdy throughout at the defensive end, was just happy to make a difference when given the chance at the other end.

“I like to do that a couple times during a game. Sometimes space just opens up in the midfield and I go and hope for the best. I think it was a little bit of luck and skill, being able to get by a couple guys and then get that PK,” he said.

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The Dons competed at a higher and more efficient level throughout the first half, connecting passes and earning four corner kicks and two free kicks in dangerous spots, but couldn’t capitalize as the first half ended scoreless.

Loyola opened the second half with another dangerous opportunity in the first two minutes. Kwaku Marfo-Sarbeng won the right end line before sending a low cross to the near post, but McDonogh goalie Connor Smith, who finished with nine saves, was able to beat Julian Schmugge to the ball to continue to frustrate the home team.

That frustration lingered for the Dons, whose inability to finish scoring chances and defend in one-on-one situations proved the difference.

“Our thought going into the second half was to continue what we did in the first half, but obviously put the chances away,” Loyola coach Lee Tschantret said. “We came out and had a good chance right away, again we didn’t get a goal there and goals change games. So we got to find a way to put the ball away.”

Despite the uneven play, McDonogh coach Brandon Quaranta was proud of his team’s second-half performance. After the sluggish first half, the Eagles competed better for balls in the middle, found their dangerous players in the right spots and finished scoring chances.

Center midfielder Richie Nichols returned from injury and made an impact, fellow center back Jacob Murrell played well next to Owusu in front of Smith, and Christian, Petrera and Brown made the Dons pay at the offensive end.

“I didn’t think we were brilliant passing the ball and combining in the second half, but better in the first half for sure. There was some better ideas and combination," Quaranta said. “But I thought we were just tougher, tighter defensively and we won more 50-50 balls [than in the first half] and when you do that, you put yourself in position to win.”

Owusu got it started.

“We talk about the difference in most games and the difference in a season is seeing your best players making plays when you need them,” Quaranta said. “That’s a center back making a 50-yard run, when I was probably advising him not to go, beating a couple guys, stuck with it, drew a clear penalty and that puts you in front. That’s making a play and that’s what you expect from your top players.”

Goals: M –Christian, Petrera 2, Brown Assists: M – Glaser, Petrera. Saves: M – Smith 9; Eckman 4 Half: 0-0

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