Joe Kahl scored the game-winning goal, but the weather was the only dominating force in Fallston's state soccer semifinal victory.
The Cougars edged Overlea, 1-0, Saturday night, Nov. 10, to earn a spot in yesterday's scheduled Class 2A state title game. Fallston (11-1-3) faced Atholton (11-3-1) for the championship.
In the semifinal game at Montgomery County's Quince Orchard High School, the rain had stopped by game time. But standing water on the field and gusty winds prevented either team from sustaining any kind of momentum.
"You couldn't get much stability," Cougar defender Dave Bergman said.
"Both us and our opponent couldn't work the passing game as well, because we were always slipping. Sometimes the ball would land in a puddle and just stop."
Since neither team could get its short passing game going, much of the game bogged down in the midfield.
"Sometimes we would try and go to the long ball out of frustration," Bergman explained. "We just wanted to get it up to one of the forwards and hope for the best."
Both teams knew that one break could make the difference. Fallston got that break late in the first half.
Kahl scored on a rebound off the goalie with 3:30 left in the first half. "It was just a case of being in the right place at the right time," said Kahl, who scored after Shane Dougherty's shot caromed off Overlea keeper Scott Burgess.
"We felt a little relief that we held on to that 1-0 lead," Fallston coach Len Petrey said. "We knew it would be hard to come up with that next score."
The Cougars outshot Overlea, 19-10, but Burgess had 10 saves. Fallston didn't have a single corner kick; Overlea had just one. Since the ball didn't travel quickly on the ground and the wind blew from goal to goal, neither team benefited from many throw-ins.
The scouting report on Overlea told Petrey to beware their set plays, but the Falcons didn't get a chance to use many. They had one good shot on a set play in the first half, but the ball was wide of the goal.
The Cougars also got excellent efforts from all four points in their diamond defense. Halfbacks Bergman, Dave Luber and Shaun Lavin, along with sweeper Chris Eatough, kept the Falcons off-guard. Goalie Steve Chaires had seven saves.
"Under those (weather) conditions, a lot of bad things can happen to you," Petrey explained. "But we did real well back there. They covered for each other."
Bergman had one big play in the second half. When Eatough slid and went down, Bergman slipped in behind him and saved one shot on goal.
Even though the Cougars beat two undefeated teams in the regional playoffs, they faced their biggest test of all in the final against Atholton, Howard County.
Atholton needed a shootout to beat Gwynn Park, 2-1, in its semifinal.
The Raiders play in the toughest county league in the metropolitan area, and their only losses were by one goal each to Howard County's top three teams, Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake and Howard.
Not only do the Raiders have an all-state goalie in Corey Hunter, they also have a highly skilled leading scorer in Tony Desmond.
"These are two good teams," Kahl said. "They're skilled, and we're skilled. Whoever wants it more is going to win it -- and we want it pretty bad."