A rite of passage this time of year in Harford County, rivals C. Milton Wright and Bel Air got together for another important boys soccer playoff game on Friday.
The schools are less than four miles apart, but the relationships between the teams are even closer with coaches and players all linked together through club ball. Bel Air coach Dominic Rose was watching his son, Paul, play in his senior year for the Mustangs.
The game brought its usual high intensity, both teams unquestionably playing all out. It had quality moments on offense, fierce challenges at midfield and some poised play on defense.
And once again, when the 80 minutes were in the books, No. 12 C. Milton Wright —two-time defending Class 3A state champions — did enough to come away with a 2-1 home win over the Bobcats in the North Region II semifinals.
Senior forward Donnie Abbott provided the game winner, a quick turn-and-shoot from 14 yards with 26:17 to play and the defense cleared ball after ball the rest of the time to send the Mustangs (11-4-1) on to the region title game. They will meet Patapsco — a 3-2 winner over Kenwood — on Tuesday.
C. Milton Wright has eliminated Bel Air six times in the past eight years with the Bobcats (10-5) competing in Class 4A the other two seasons. The majority of the Mustangs’ wins have been by one goal with three games decided in overtime. This time, they had to come back from a one-goal deficit to claim the win.
“We’ve been on a nice run now and I think it’s a credit to our guys,” C. Milton Wright coach Brian Tully said. “We felt the first goal was going to be important in this game, but we responded well… We got into the flow of the game, how we wanted to play. And I think it’s just building that confidence as a program in that we know we can play, we know we can come back in games and we know we can beat anybody in the state if we’re playing our best and doing what we can do.”
In the teams’ regular-season meeting Sept. 19, the Bobcats scored late in the first half and were able to hold on for a 1-0 win.
They started out strong again and when Tyler Albright was perfect in placing a free kick from 20 yards in the right corner for another 1-0 lead.
Settling in and seemingly playing with more urgency after falling behind, C. Milton evened the score on a well-executed set piece with 13:41 to play in the half. Ethan Dolezal swiftly played a short corner kick to Ryan Lindsey, who had time and space along the right end line to work the ball in close before finding the near post.
Abbott, who scored his first two goals in the final two regular-season games, came up big once again with some quick anticipation. After Lindsey played a ball to the middle, Garrett Tenckoff had first crack at it but his shot from 22 yards didn’t make it through the pack in front. The ball found Abbott, who immediately turned and hit a shot that skimmed off the top crossbar and in the left corner.
“Left footed, game winner — I’m just speechless right now,” he said.
For the Bobcats, another fine season comes to a close against their biggest rival. After falling behind, they pressed to earn two corner kicks, another free kick and two long throws with the Mustangs defense marking well and sure on its clears. The best chance to tie came with 2:45 left when Nick Feinour won space on the right side and hit and shot from 12 yards that hit the near post.
“The rivalry excites all of us. It’s not a hatred rivalry. It’s more like mutual respect for each other. We all know each other so well. So it’s just the familiarity with both programs, we play tight games and they just keep coming up on the winning end,” Coach Rose said.
What is it that has the Mustangs always finding a way to win in the playoffs?
“I don’t know. I don’t know — it’s different every year,” he said. “I couldn’t put my finger on it tonight but I felt whoever would score two goals would win it.”
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Goals: BA – Albright; CMW – Lindsey, Abbott. Assists: CMW – Dolezal, Tenckhoff. Saves: BA – Cook 3; CMW – Hetrick 2. Half: 1-1