According to Mount St. Joseph coach Michael Dolan, his Gaels and Archbishop Curley were "about as even as teams can be" heading into yesterday's Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference soccer semifinal.
St. Joe had beaten the Friars twice in the regular season, both times by 2-1, the last time on a penalty kick in overtime.
Yesterday, St. Joe prevailed once more. Again it was 2-1, but not before visiting Curley had extended the Gaels through 80 minutes of regulation and seven of overtime.
Sophomore striker Steve Matcuk took Mark Dunaway's long centering pass in the rapidly deepening darkness, lost two defenders with a quick cross-over dribble and beat Friars keeper George Mayer to his right from 10 yards out.
The goal, Matcuk's second, boosted 12th-ranked St. Joe into Sunday's 2 p.m. MSA A championship at Essex Community College. The Gaels' opponent will be No. 2 Calvert Hall, a 5-0 winner over John Carroll in yesterday's other semifinal.
St. Joe will be playing in its first final since 1979.
"I feel so good for our kids. We have some great seniors this year, and it's just a pleasure to work with all of them," Dolan said. And although Dolan felt good at the end, it was some time in coming.
His Gaels were outshot, 15-12, and were mostly on the defensive after Donnie Darmsteadt of No. 8 Curley (12-4-2) headed in the tying goal on Jeff Merryman's assist four minutes before halftime. Matcuk had given St. Joe the lead just one minute before, when he converted Brian Lawson's superb through-ball that split two Friars backs.
The Gaels dodged several threats from there, including shots by Merryman and Franco Pastore that barely missed in the waning minutes of regulation.
The ultimate difference, said Dolan and Friars coach Joe Pirrella, was St. Joe's ability to play long and in the air, depriving Curley of its trademark short-passing game. "If we don't, they'll put on a passing clinic," Dolan said.
Said Pirrella, "They played very physically, kicked long and high, and took us out of our game. We also couldn't put the ball in the hoop, but give them credit -- they find the way to win."