Saturday night's Region XX JuCo soccer tournament men's semifinal between Anne Arundel and Montgomery-Rockville bore an uncanny resemblance to the regular-season finale played between the two teams just eight days earlier at Siegert Field.
Rockville's Fightin' Knights brought a No. 1 national ranking into that game -- the second meeting between the two squads -- and the Pioneers clipped them, 3-2, in overtime. The Pioneers, who had lost earlier, 3-1, to the Fightin' Knights, had to overcome a 2-0 deficit midway through the second half to win.
Buoyed by that victory and an 8-1 home-field record, tournament host Pioneers outshot the Fightin' Knights (17-11), pressured goalkeeper George Garbis (10 saves) and almost pulled off the feat again.
The key word here is "almost."
Saturday, it was the top-seeded Fightin' Knights (17-1-1) and not the fourth-seeded Pioneers (11-6-2) who came away with a 2-1 victory.
Rockville coach Tom Bichy, in his 23rd season, recounted the stunning similarities.
"It was almost the same thing as last week. We were up 2-0 and had a third goal called back that would have given us a 3-0 lead. Then, just like today, they got pumped up and scored and were right back in the game," said Bichy, whose team ousted the Pioneers from last year's regional semifinal, 3-0, before finishing as the tournament runner-up to Essex.
The Pioneers were dominating the second half, outshooting the Fightin' Knights, 9-4. Broadneck graduate Mike Ogden (12 goals, five assists) scored on a fast break that left the Rockville defense frozen in its tracks.
Standing on the near side, Ogden received a through pass from midfielder Scott Dryden, who had stolen the ball from Rockville's Aiah Fanday.
But the AACC team couldn't score an equalizer.
"We thought we outplayed them on the wings and they weren't establishing anything in the offensive third," Pioneers assistant coach Rob Fareday said. "I think we controlled the pace of the game, but we couldn't finish."
"Today was a different day," Bichy said. "We've been winning games without playing well, but I think (the Pioneers) pass the ball more cleanly than any team we've played. The difference today was our defense and our goalkeeper."
The Pioneers were without starting sweeper and JuCo All-America nominee Kevin Wise, who received a red card in the last game. The Meade graduate watched from the sidelines as Dave Gallant (11 goals, seven assists) capitalized on a defensive mistake to score his team's first goal just 12 minutes into the game.
While standing about 5 yards from the goal's mouth, Gallant collected a defender's botched kick of teammate Victory Martins' 15-yard shot. With Pioneers keeper Corey Derfler (four saves) already committed to Martins, Gallant tapped the ball into an open goal.
A tripping penalty against the Pioneers set up Martins' 23rd goal of the season. It was a 30-yard floater off a direct kick that sailed over Derfler's head to give the Fightin' Knights a 2-0 lead with 15 minutes left in the first half. Derfler's view was screened by several players who stood in front of the goal on the shot.
The Pioneers dominated the rest of the half.
Three shots by Ogden highlighted that surge. His first sailed over a wide-open goal, his second -- on a breakaway about 10 yards away -- was smothered at his feet by Garbis before he got off the shot and his third, a header, went over the goal.
A point-blank header by Severna Park graduate Ron Eckels (nine goals, nine assists) was cleared by a Rockville defender, and a shot by Spalding graduate Danny Smith was smothered by Garbis about five yards out before the first half ended.
"I thought the halftime score should have been 2-2," said Pioneers coach Ken Wolfe, in his 18th season. "We got the opportunities and we put them in the last game. We did everything we could to win. I don't think there's anything more we could have done."