Fallston's reward for winning its regional boys soccer title was a two-hour bus ride to Hagerstown.
The Cougars (12-2-2) defeated Joppatowne, 3-1, last Saturday night for the Class 1A, Region III championship. The win sent the Harford County champions to the state semifinals, scheduled for last night at South Hagerstown High School. (Game completion was too late to meet the Harford County Sun's deadline.)
Not only did the Cougars have to travel more than 100 miles, but they faced Wilde Lake when they got there.
The Wildecats (11-2-1) were the only team to shut out Fallston during the regular season. InThe Sun poll, Wilde Lake is ranked No. 3, behind Centennial and Calvert Hall. The Cougars are 10th.
The last time they met, the Wildecats walked away with a 2-0 victory. This time, Fallston coach Len Petrey said, the Cougars would have to neutralize the Wildecats' powerful midfield if they hoped to win.
Midfield is the one area where the Cougars, runners-up in Class 2A last year, don't quite stack up to last year's squad.
They are just as powerful on the line, with strikers Shane Dougherty and Tom Gould. They're also tough on defense, led by All-State sweeper Chris Eatough. But while the Cougars have hard workers at midfield, they don't have the speed and skill that a team like Wilde Lake relies on.
The Cougars do have Joe Poling, a scrappy senior who leads the midfield. Freshman Todd Paradise plays consistently, and junior Chris Luber did well in the Joppatowne game.
"We don't have a real slick ball handler in the middle," Petrey explained. "Joe does it out of hustle. If you beat him, he's going to comeright back and take you on again.
"But we are still looking for the right combination. The boys who are at midfield are playing as well as they're capable, but we don't have high-level skill players there."
The Cougars have seen midfield play at its best when they faced Wilde Lake and its set-up man, Tony Nesbitt. Although Nesbitt can score, he is usually content to use his speed and skills to set up histeammates, especially striker Amani Dove.
Although the Cougars don't usually mark individuals, Petrey said his squad might have to against Nesbitt to cut off the balls going through to the line.
Fallston also would need to generate more offense. Last time, the Cougars managed just seven shots on goal against Wild Lake.
Against Joppatowne (9-4-1) last Saturday night, the Cougars had plenty of offense in the first half. They scored three goals in the first 30 minutes.