Two of his best players were reduced to mere spectators. His team was forced to play a man down over the final 12 minutes, 29 seconds.
North County boys soccer coach Steve Malone could marvel at his Knights' remarkable composure yesterday against Severna Park. But he couldn't erase the 1-0 loss.
"A teen-age mistake" was how Malone described the incident that led to Jody Haislip's second card and his removal from the game. An ankle injury to Dae Sik Ham soon afterward was self-explanatory.
Ham would return, but not before Falcons senior Darren Mallinson turned hero when he tapped in a loose ball in front of an open net.
"We practice dead balls all the time," Mallinson said, describing the goal. "Mark (Budzinski) flicked the ball across the crease, and it ricocheted off a defender and the goalie and there was a wide-open goal."
The win kept Severna Park perfect in the county (7-0). North County is now 6-1 in the county, 10-1 overall.
Both teams are assured spots in the upcoming Class 4A Region IV playoffs. The Knights still can enter the postseason as No. 1 seeds with a victory today against Chesapeake. A North County loss, coupled with a Severna Park win over Meade tomorrow, would move the Falcons into the top position.
Severna Park (9-2 overall) entered the game having won the last three county championships.
"We've owned the county for the past few years, and we didn't want to give it up now," said Falcons keeper Jason Zaks.
Zaks had denied Haislip, the county's leading scorer with 17, on a penalty kick late in the first half. Haislip then was carded twice in the second half, the second time for picking up the ball after a whistle and booting it out of bounds.
"He's a teen-ager and he made a teen-ager's mistake," Malone said, no trace of anger in his voice. "He thought (the ball boys) were going to throw another ball on the field. It was one of those things."
North County still outplayed Severna Park after Haislip's dismissal, as it had for most of the game. But the Knights could not beat Zaks, who is recovering from a slight wrist fracture.
Zaks passed along much of the credit to his defenders, particularly junior Jamie Cornett.
"Jamie Cornett was all over (North County forward) Mike Hoskins," Zaks said. "We knew Mike Hoskins would be a tremendous threat."
Hoskins took the game's first shot after racing past Severna Park's Nate Scheck. But Zaks make a leaping save, one of 10 on the chilly afternoon.
Hoskins then fed sophomore Shawn Moyer, but Zaks came up with a diving stop.
"We should have had two goals in the first five minutes," said North County assistant coach Dan Krimmelbein.
Not with Zaks guarding the net. Not on this day.
"The game he lost to Bowie (2-0 Oct. 2) was his best game up to date, but this one is by far his best," said Falcons coach Don Gregg. "He's an outstanding keeper."
Gregg felt fortunate to come away with a win in a game where his team was outshot, 19-7, by the quicker Knights.
"They took it to us," he said. "I'm wondering why we let them dominate so much."
Severna Park took its first shot with 10 minutes gone in the first half, but North County keeper Jesse Haislip (three saves) easily gathered Brian Peterson's offering.
Moyer fired a shot on the other end that glanced off Zaks' hands, but Cornett cleared the ball out of harms way.
Moyer sent a nice crossing pass to Chris Cosentino, who was pushed from behind by Mark Budzinski. Haislip was called on to attempt the penalty kick, which Zaks stopped with a dive to his right.
Zaks and Haislip are teammates on the Maryland United traveling squad.
"Once he planted his left foot," Zaks said, "I figured he'd go left."
And eventually, the Knights' hopes for an undefeated season went astray.