Every time Fallston meets North Harford in boys soccer, the game is part friendly rivalry, part all-out war.
Thursday night, the rivals battled to a 0-0 halftime score, and it appeared that neither team would ever break through. But the defending county champion Cougars finally snapped the tie when Todd Paradise scored off Joe Poling's corner kick midway through the second half.
The Cougars got a second goal from Shane Dougherty on a penalty kick and went on to a 2-0 victory.
"This is the typical North County rivalry," said Cougars coach Len Petrey. "Fallston, North Harford, C. Milton and Bel Air -- most years that's the cream of the crop in soccer. The kids all know each other, but there's a lot of pride on the line.
"Whenever any of those teams match up, you're going to seegood soccer. If you win at this end of the county, you're probably going to do well everywhere else."
So far, the Cougars (5-1 overall, 2-0 league) have done well almost everywhere else. Their only loss came in double overtime at Delaware powerhouse St. Mark's.
State runners-up in Class 2A a year ago, the Cougars are now in Class 1A, where the competition may be a little lighter. Already the Cougars havebeaten Class 1A runner-up Havre de Grace, 7-0.
However, Fallston faces a tough test tomorrow at Wilde Lake (3-1). The Cougars took a 2-0 lead last year over the Wildecats and then blew it, falling, 4-2. In the latest Sun poll, the Cougars were ranked No. 8, with Wilde Lake at No. 9.
The Wildecats, also a Class 1A team, play in the toughHoward County league. They could eventually stand between the Cougars and a second appearance in the final. The Cougars, however, are already determined to get back to the title game.
"We went to the final last year and we're sick of hearing about losing," said All-State sweeper Chris Eatough. "We want to be there again."
Fallston won the county title last year with a 5-0-2 record. One of the teams the Cougars tied was North Harford. Thursday night, the Cougars were determined not to let that happen again.
"Last year, they ran us reallyhard," said Eatough. "In the first half (Thursday), they played tough, especially in the back. It took a lot of work and running for us to wear them down."
The Owls played outstanding defense in the first half, shutting down the Cougars' potent strikers Dougherty and Tom Gould. Dougherty, a member of the regional Olympic Development Team who led the Cougars in scoring last year, already has five goals and seven assists. Gould, who moved up from junior varsity, has nine goalsand a pair of assists.
Kirk Chesla marked Dougherty stride-for-stride, and Dougherty never got in position for a good shot the entire first half. Owl teammate Rob Ivy shut down Gould.
"We did not playwell in the first half," said Petrey. "They were more aggressive to the ball. We were kind of slow, and they came at us a lot. We misplayed balls in the back and they played steady in the back. They were very sure-footed. They didn't miss many."
In the second half, Fallston dominated early. Then Poling dropped his corner kick perfectly in front of the goal for freshman Paradise to boot into the net.
"That kind of broke our backs," said North Harford coach Ed Zorn. "I don't think we played well after that."
The Owls haven't had as much trouble with their offense in past games. Keith Smith scored two goalsin Tuesday's 3-0 victory over Joppatowne. But the Cougars got some strong defensive performances especially from Eatough, Poling and Rob D'Angelo.
"Our defense is very consistent," said goalie Steve Chaires, who has missed most of the early season with torn cartilage in his thigh. "They all cover for each other. If one guy messes up, he knows the next man is right behind him to back him up. They have a lot of confidence in each other, and I have a lot of confidence in them."
Jason Hunsinger, who has excelled in the goal since taking over for Chaires, had five saves, including a dramatic diving effort late in the second half to preserve the shutout.