GAITHERSBURG -- Top-ranked Centennial scored early and then dominated Franklin en route to a 4-0 victory in a state Class 3A semifinal last night at Gaithersburg High.
Centennial will meet the winner of last night's other semifinal -- Walt Whitman vs. Thomas Stone -- in the championship Saturday at Old Mill at 5 p.m.
Josh Baer, the Eagles' leading scorer with 18 goals and seven assists, beat his defender down the right side and kicked in the game's first goal from 18 yards out.
Centennial (13-0-2) scored two more goals in the first half against Franklin's three-man backfield, as the Indians (10-4) went with a 3-4-3 alignment.
"I was licking my chops when I saw that three-man backfield," Baer said. "We didn't get the kind of defensive pressure we are used to getting from Howard County teams and we ruled the midfield."
Winning coach Bill Stara expressed surprise that Franklin played without a stopper back.
"That puts an awful lot of pressure on your sweeper back," Stara said.
Franklin tried to use its strength down the middle by arranging its attack around sweeper Scott Patzwall, center-midfielder Brent Horter (14 goals), striker Matt Smith and keeper Eric Monroe. But Centennial is also strong in the middle with keeper Brock Yetso, sweeper Cullen Meade, center-midfielder Tod Downen and Baer.
"We knew they'd be tough to beat if they scored first because they can really pack it back defensively," Franklin coach Bob Herring said. "That first goal kind of broke our backs."
But the Eagles never fell back into their four-man defensive shell. They kept pressing the attack.
Downen (10 goals, 2 assist) headed in a free kick by Eric Tischer for Centennial's second goal at 24 minutes, 18 seconds of the first half.
Rehan Gill made it 3-0 in the 35th minute with a hard kick from 10 yards out that glanced off Monroe's hand. Keith Cormier scored Centennial's final goal with four minutes to go on a follow-up shot.
Franklin's offense never had much of a chance to score because Centennial dominated possession. Franklin took its only shot on goal 20 minutes into the second half.