This was supposed to be Oakland Mills' year to win a state Class 3A boys soccer championship. Now it's not so certain.
The team, top-ranked in the Baltimore area by The Sun and rated seventh in one national poll, saw its shield of invincibility take a battering Monday. Three key players were suspended for 30 days, school officials said.
The disciplinary action against sweeper Ryan Burke, fullback Dan Bickell and forward Mike Fitzgibbon followed alleged misconduct by the trio at a school dance Friday night.
The team had already suffered one blow when Malcolm Gilliam suffered a broken foot in Friday's game, forcing him out of play for at least a week.
Oakland Mills, loaded with 23 returning players, including 15 seniors, blanked its first two opponents, Loyola, 3-0, and Calvert Hall, 2-0, last week.
But the absence of the four players left the Scorpions' a bit short against a talented Bowie squad Monday. And Bowie (1-0) beat the Scorpions, 2-0.
"What can I say," Scorpions coach Don Shea said after the game. "But life goes on. They (the suspended players) did a dumb thing and have to be disciplined for it. We had a soccer program before that happened, and there is still a soccer program."
But even Shea admitted the team may now have to struggle to stay among the top five in the Baltimore-area rankings. It may even have to struggle to make the state playoffs, much less win the championship.
Oakland Mills found it especially difficult Monday to replace Bickell at left fullback, using at least three different players at various times.
Bowie coach Rich Kirkland knew that Oakland Mills was missing some starters, and tried to take advantage of it.
"Their left side was weak, very weak," Kirkland said. "We tried to attack it."
Bowie scored 8 minutes, 15 seconds into the game off a mistake by Scorpions goalie Tony Richmond, a first-year senior cast into a starting role because of his tremendous athletic ability. Richmond is 6-2 and 185 pounds and looks more like a football linebacker than a soccer goalie.
Bowie's Dave Briles sent a crossing pass that Richmond grabbed but dropped. Todd Hicks tapped in the loose ball for Bowie from six yards out.
It was the kind of play that gave Bowie a tremendous boost.
"We were the underdog," Hicks said. "And we came out as hard as we could, because we had nothing to lose."
Hicks said he thought the ball might have been nicked out of Richmond's hands as several Bowie players went up after Briles' pass.
But Shea said Richmond told him he just dropped it.
Oakland Mills almost got that goal back quickly, when Clint Peay dribbled downfield and kicked a hard shot off the post. The Scorpions also had some other chances they failed to convert.
Oakland Mills pushed up its midfield to try and tie the score, and in doing so it left a gap in the middle of the field that Kirkland's players tried to exploit.
"Our strategy was to clear to the midfield, and then get a play-and-go going," Kirkland said.
That strategy worked with four minutes left in the game, as Bowie added a second goal. Seth Brannon took a pass from Greg Zweibel, dribbled past one defender, and shot it by a diving Richmond from inside the 10-yard line.
That goal crushed any remaining hopes of victory for Oakland Mills.
It was the second straight time that Bowie, a Class 4A school, defeated the Scorpions. Bowie also won last year.
"It's good for us to play a school that is so well coached and has so much talent," Kirkland said. "I wish we could have seen them at full strength."
Some of Oakland Mills' best scoring chances came off four corner kicks.