A second-half injury to starting goalie Krista Fulton stretched an already-thin Howard girls soccer team to its breaking point against Frederick County power Middletown Monday at Howard.
But the unbeaten Lions (4-0) snapped back in sudden-death overtime to win 3-2 on Kristi Greer's 35-yard direct kick that landed just below the crossbar and above the reach of Middletown goalie Amy Lowe. The teams had played three minutes and 48 seconds of overtime.
Ironically, Greer, a senior midfielder, made an almost identical goal last year in sudden death to beat Middletown, 1-0.
"She's something else," Middletown coach John Miller said. "It was just a perfect kick. There was nothing our goalie could do about it."
Greer's goal tied her with freshman Shannon Bagrosky for the team lead with five, and saved the Lions from a potentially demoralizing defeat.
Howard led 1-0 at halftime and controlled the game handily.
Stopper Susan Olson scored on a rebound shot from in close for the lead goal.
But four minutes into the second half, the game turned completely topsy-turvy for Howard when star goalie Krista Fulton collided with several players and suffered a concussion. She was taken by ambulance to Howard County General Hospital and later released.
The home crowd held its breath when Fulton went down, knowing she had suffered a temporarily paralyzing neck injury during a basketball game last winter. But Fulton was cleared by a doctor to play soccer this fall, and, pending a doctor's examination today, she could return to play yet this week.
Monday's collision was an ugly one. The 5'9" Fulton was coming out to break up a play when she smacked into at least three other players and fell heavily to the ground.
After about a 15-minute game delay, Fulton, bleeding from a cut lip, walked slowly toward the sideline assisted by two players. She lay there for about 20 minutes until an ambulance arrived. She was lifted from the field onto a stretcher.
Meanwhile, Howard coach Jane Sherman, with just one able-bodied substitute, was forced to dip into her junior varsity team, calling on inexperienced goalie Julie Lovell.
Middletown, sensing Howard's sudden disarray, immediately pressed the attack, but Lovell made one nice save on a low bouncing shot.
Howard's offense then gave its defense much-needed breathing room with a goal in the 55th minute. Senior forward Linda Schneider made Lowe commit at about the 15-yard line, and then kicked it by her for a 2-0 lead.
About 10 minutes later, Middletown finally scored on Rachel Levine's 15-yard shot. Lovell initially caught the ball, but dropped it. Then it rolled into the net.
A couple of minutes later, Lovell leaped for a shot by Sherry Huckleberry and it squirted through her hands for the Knights' second goal.
Huckleberry, a sophomore, is Middletown's leading scorer with nine goals and six assists.
Howard staved off Middletown for the final 13 minutes of regulation time, due mostly to its ball-control offense and some nice defense by sweeper Camille Powell.
Howard nearly scored twice during that time -- once on a four-on-two break, and once on a hard shot by Shannon Bagrosky that bounced off the crossbar.
Howard outshot Middletown 12-4 in the second half, and 17-7 in regulation. Lowe made 11 saves for Middletown, and Fulton had three before her injury. Lovell made two.
Overtime belonged to Howard. First, Schneider made a nice turning shot in close that Lowe expertly saved.
Then came Greer's 35-yard, game-winning beauty, the kind of shot that only stars make.
"I was tired," Greer said. "And I think they (Middletown) were tired.
They were our best out-of-county competition."
Middletown has made the regional playoffs every year since 1984. The Knights had not lost to a non-league opponent during the regular season in three years until its loss to Howard last year.
Middletown was 4-1 coming into Monday's game, having outscored its opposition, 23-5. Its only loss was to Frederick County rival Catoctin, 1-0, in a game where Middletown was forced to play without its starting goalie and one of its starting strikers.
"This is the first time we have ever lost two straight games," coach Miller said. "That dates back to 1983 when the program started.
"It's nice to be able to play a team the caliber of Howard. They just beat us at getting to the ball. They trapped and moved well off the ball.
Our defense was not marking up to par. We were sluggish today."
Howard has little time to savor Monday's victory. It faces a capable Liberty team today at Howard, and Friday night at 7:30 it hosts the league opener against Oakland Mills.
Oakland Mills knocked the Lions out of the opening round of the regional playoffs the last two years. But the Lions upset Oakland Mills 2-0 earlier this year in a non-league contest, marking the first time Howard had ever beaten Oakland Mills.
"This is a rough week for us with three games," Sherman said. "We're small in numbers, but in a way that has helped, because the girls know they have to be fit."
Sherman just wishes she could get her entire team healthy again.