ELLICOTT CITY — Mt. Hebron officially put four years of region playoff frustration in the rearview mirror Monday evening.
Opportunistic offense and lockdown defense were the difference against Chesapeake in the Class 3A East region final, as the Vikings built an early lead and never surrendered it on the way to a 3-1 victory and the program's first trip to the state semifinals since 2011.
Chesapeake (12-3-3) saw its season come to a close, but not without a fight. The team controlled possession for long stretches and, after falling behind 3-0, showed resiliency in the latter stages to climb back into it.
Ultimately, the comeback just fell short.
"I knew coming in that this was a game that could go either way and there were some contrasting styles in terms of them playing direct and playing physical. In the end, I thought we had some breaks just not go our way," Chesapeake coach Chris Collins said. "Despite the score line, I thought it was a lot closer than that might indicate."
Mt. Hebron (15-1) advances to face the winner of Towson and Lansdowne in the 3A state semifinals on Saturday at Linganore High School.
"Honestly, I'm just thrilled for these guys because they've worked so hard to get to this point and they are just such an incredibly close group. Not that the teams the last few years weren't, because they were, but there's just something special about this team — they're not ready for this to be over yet," Mt. Hebron coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. "We're just finding ways to win and probably playing our best soccer at the perfect time."
Coming off an emotional region semifinal win just three days earlier against county-rival Centennial, Mt. Hebron showed no signs of a let down against the Cougars.
In fact, it took only 10 minutes for the Vikings to grab the upper hand, as Jacob Parrott lofted a 50-yard free kick just over the outstretched hands of Chesapeake goalie Ethan Belcher into the back of the net.
"That goal really did it for us. I mean, we came out and knew it was going to be a hard game and then as soon as we went up the energy just picked up," Parrott said. "We knew what we had to do. We had to keep the lead, we had to keep going strong."
Mt. Hebron did indeed keep up its intensity through the end of the first half, maintaining that 1-0 cushion.
Then, just over five minutes out of intermission, the Vikings padded their lead. This time it was a corner kick by Alex Simak that Sebastian Tobar rose above a crowd to head into the left side of the net.
"Usually at the end of practices we run over set plays and Alex Simak has a really nice set play to the near post. So I just ran near post, got up there and scored," Tobar said.
Later, with 9:40 left in regulation, Jared Simowitz found Johnny Linsenmeyer in transition to up the lead to 3-0.
But just as the game seemed to be getting out of hand, Chesapeake immediately showed life. The Cougars answered less than 20 seconds after the Vikings' third goal courtesy of a finish on the right post by Andrew Colebrook.
"They really pack their defense in, so we either needed a really good outside shot or we needed that slicing pass that would come in. As it turned out, that's how we scored our goal," Collins said. "We got that hard run, a ball across and then boom in the back of the goal. That's what we were working for."
Chesapeake had a few more opportunities in the final minutes, but never managed to beat Mt. Hebron goalie Torey Jones (5 saves) again before time ran out.
The Vikings stormed the field and celebrated the win and hung around afterward to take pictures with the region championship trophy, but the team also was careful to remind one another that there is still work to be done.
"It feels great, but as much as you want to celebrate, you've got to move on to the next game and prepare for that game," Parrott said. "Friday night, we won against Centennial and it was awesome and everyone was super pumped but we had practice the next morning to get ready for today. And then tonight, big win, but now we've got to start preparing for Saturday."
Chesapeake (12-3-3)01—1Mount Hebron (15-1)12—3
GOALS: CH — Colebrook; MH — Parrott, Tobar, Linsenmeyer. ASSISTS: MH — Simak, Simowitz. SAVES: CH — Et. Belcher 7; MH — Jones 5.