Defense had been the backbone of Fallston's boys soccer team all season. In 15 games, the Cougars had given up only 14 goals, but that strength didn't quite hold up in the state championship game.
The Cougars (11-2-1) lost the state Class 2A title game to Atholton, 3-0, on Nov. 17 at Old Mill High School in Anne Arundel County. It was only Fallston's third trip to the state final and the first since 1983.
"We'll look back and say we had a good year, but we know we didn't do ourselves justice in the final," said sweeper Chris Eatough.
All season long, the Cougars have used their diamond-back zone defense to shut down the opposition. Eatough, fullbacks Dave Bergman, Dave Luber and Shaun Lavin and goalie Steve Chaires had stopped some potent attacks in earlier playoff games. But Atholton's Tony Dedmond was another story.
Only twice before had Dedmond gone unmarked. Both times, against Wilde Lake and Archbishop Curley, he had scored three goals. Against Fallston, he had two goals and an assist.
Fallston coach Len Petrey knew Dedmond's reputation as the leading scorer in a tough Howard County league, but Petrey elected to stick with his zone.
"We've been successful against some good strikers this year without marking them," said Petrey. "Our backs have been able to cover, and I didn't think there was any reason to change that. Unfortunately, it didn't work this time."
Dedmond was only half of the problem facing Fallston. Atholton goalkeeper Kori Hunter, an All-State pick, provided an even bigger challenge for a Cougar offense that had put only 40 goals on the board all year.
The Cougars, who had the wind at their backs in the first half, had several good chances to score. Neither of their big guns, Steve Eisenmann (12 goals, 8 assists) nor Shane Dougherty (11 goals, 10 assists) could break through.
Several Fallston players had opportunities, but they shot wide of the goal on most of their seven shots. Hunter only had to make two saves.
"Getting one of those in could have made a big difference," said Petrey.
Instead, Atholton (12-3-1) took advantage of a communication breakdown in the Cougar midfield to set up Dedmond's first goal with a minute and a half left in the first half.
Each thinking the other would take him, Bergman and Lavin let Nick Bostrom slip between them. The Atholton midfielder then booted a perfect ball over the top to Dedmond on the left side. As Eatough and Chaires converged on him, Dedmond lifted the ball over the diving Chaires and gently rolled it into the net.
"We're a quiet team, and that sometimes plays against you," said Petrey.
"That score was one place where a communication breakdown hurt us dramatically."
The Raiders dominated early in the second half. Dedmond and Todd Bradford scored back-to-back goals to give Atholton a 3-0 lead just six minutes into the half. Fallston hadn't even taken a shot.
"They played well. and they punished us when we made mistakes," explained Eatough, an All-State second-team pick. "They didn't make mistakes."
Chaires had six saves as the Raiders outshot Fallston, 9-4, in the half.
Halfback Tom Gould saved another shot.
Ernie Cardell tried to make things happen a couple of times in the second half. The exchange student from Sweden initiated a couple of breakaways but couldn't convert.