Before the season, Glenelg boys soccer coach John Bouman said his team could possibly beat six of its seven county opponents. At the time, several opposing coaches thought he was exaggerating the extent of his team's talent.
But on Monday, the Gladiators vindicated their coach with a 2-1 victory over Howard, a team that was ranked fourth by The Sun in the Baltimore metro area for most of the season.
It evened Glenelg's league record at 3-3 and followed earlier victories over Mount Hebron and powerful Wilde Lake.
And the Gladiators' league losses were close games: 2-1 in overtime to defending state Class 2A champion Atholton; 2-1 to Hammond; and 3-0 to Centennial. Top-ranked Centennial didn't score on Glenelg until the final 15 minutes.
"We've achieved one of our goals and that was to establish ourselves as a good team in the county," Bouman said. "We have played close games with every county team and feel that only Centennial had adecided edge over us in talent. We've slowly made a name for ourselves."
Despite the euphoric triumph that ended with a giant victory pile in the middle of the Glenelg field Monday, the Gladiators are disappointed that they will not have a shot at a regional title.
"Even if we win our last game against Oakland Mills we will come up two points short of a playoff spot," Bouman said. "We have no one to blame but ourselves because we should have beaten Havre de Grace and Hammond."
The Gladiators tied Havre de Grace, 0-0 in overtime, and lost to Hammond, 2-1. They also lost to Archbishop Spalding and to Liberty in overtime games. Glenelg's overtime record is a disappointing 1-3-1.
Overall, Glenelg is 5-5-1. That's respectable considering thehigh quality of the league. And a victory over Oakland Mills Saturday would give the Gladiators their first winning season. They were 6-6last season -- their best previous record.
Glenelg fell behind 1-0 at halftime against Howard, and the Lions seemed to be in control of a highly physical game.
Lion fullback Paul McNeeley scored that goal on a kick that rattled the net. Mike Bagrosky got the assist on McNeeley's first goal of the year.
It was a frustrating first halffor Glenelg. Almost every time the Gladiators established an offensive threat, Howard tackled the player before he could shoot. On several occasions, when Glenelg did get open for shots, they either misfired or waited too long to get the shot off.
Jason Shefrin filled in for Howard's No. 1 goalie James Morrow, who sat out his second straight game after shoving a referee during a contest against Atholton last week. Shefrin was forced to make just six saves.
Shefrin's inexperience showed at nine minutes into the second half on a free kick byKeever Frye. Frye's direct shot from 23 yards out slipped off Shefrin's hands inside the far post for his second goal of the season.
Ironically, Frye, who is a junior, spent his freshman season at Howard.
"We thought we could win today and we just took advantage of their goalie," Frye said. "We knew he was weak in the air."
Glenelg scored the go-ahead goal in the 27th minute of the second half on a penalty kick by junior Dan Gaertner, whose kick found the lower left net. The kick was awarded after a Howard player was called for a handball violation in front of the goal.
"We let Gaertner take the kick because he's our most-skilled player," Bouman said. Glenelg's leadingscorer is Matt Drummand, who has seven goals and four assists.
Onthe play that set up the penalty kick, Howard was without one of itsbest defensive field players, stopper Jarrod Moreland, who had twisted an ankle and left the game just seven minutes before Glenelg's winning goal. Moreland was marking Drummand.
But Glenelg also suffered the loss of one of its best players, Scott Cline, who twisted an ankle just 20 minutes into the game and didn't play again. Cline scoredtwice in Glenelg's previous game, a 3-2 win over Mount Hebron.
Glenelg almost added a third goal in the 35th minute of the second half, but a kick-save by Mark Osterman on a ball that was a foot away from an open net prevented the Gladiators from putting the game away then.
Howard applied strong offensive pressure in the closing minutes.
Glenelg goalie Russell Payne, one of the county's premier keepers, made an outstanding save with three minutes left on a hard shot from close range.
The ball bounced off Payne's hands and a follow-upshot was kicked over the crossbar.
Howard had a final chance withtwo minutes left, but Jason Yancey's hard shot from the middle of the field at the 15-yard line cleared the crossbar.
Glenelg played the final minute one man down after forward Chris Vacarri was red-carded.
"We expected to play better than this," McNeeley said. "We didn't take them lightly, but just had a couple of temporary defensive lapses."
Howard dropped to 5-4-2 overall and 1-3-2 in the league.
Lions coach Rudy Storch said his team has already clinched a RegionIII, Class 3A playoff spot, even if it loses its regular-season finale to Hammond Friday night.
Bouman praised the play of senior fullback Steve Schaefer, one of just four seniors on Glenelg's roster.
"He's our unsung hero," Bouman said.