In 1988, when Josh Baer was a freshman, the Centennial Eagles were coming off a state soccer championship.
He and his fellow freshmen set a goal for themselves that year -- to win their own state title before they graduated.
Saturday at Old Mill High School the top-ranked Eagles realized that goal by winning the state Class 3A title with a 2-1 victory over Thomas Stone of Charles County.
Not only did the Eagles carry off a state title, but they also went undefeated for the second time in school history. The 1987 state championship team was 15-0. This year'ssquad was 14-0-2.
"It was a great year," Baer said. "Better than we expected, because we didn't lose.
"And it was a total team effort. The seniors or juniors didn't carry us. We had freshmen and sophomores contribute, and everyone did their jobs."
Relentless, disciplined and methodical are words that describe Centennial's talented squad.
And much is said about Centennial's system, a style designed to take advantage of narrow county fields.
The system emphasizes creating dead-ball scoring situations, such as corner kicks, throw-insor free kicks.
The Eagles created 26 dead-ball scoring opportunities Saturday against Thomas Stone, a good number even for Centennial.
Baer, a senior captain, leading scorer and All-State forward, played a key role in creating those situations. It was his job as forward to dribble the ball down the line into the corner and try to turn it in for a shot.
He'd keep the ball on his outside foot, and the best a defender could do was kick it out of bounds or try for a tackle. Baer's speed makes him hard to tackle, so the Eagles wound up with many opportunities.
Senior midfielder Eric Tischer cashed in one of those chances for the winning goal with 27 minutes 12 seconds left in the game. He boomed a right-footed corner kick into the goal, the second time this season he won a game by scoring off a corner.
Thedifficult shot left the Eagles elated and relieved.
"I didn't think it was going in," Baer said. "I thought it was going behind the net. But it took a lot of pressure off our fullbacks."
Thomas Stone,which was unbeaten at 14-0-1 and had outscored its opponents 67-8, started the scoring with with 6:20 left in the first half.
Cougar forward Willie Morris got his 19th goal of the season
when he slipped a slow-roller past two defenders and the keeper -- all of whom hadfallen about five yards from the goal. His shot gave Thomas Stone a short-lived sense of euphoria.
Short-lived, because 75 seconds later Tod Downen's header from 10 yards out tied it 1-1. Downen, a senior All-State midfielder, played a free kick from the 35-yard line by junior fullback Werner Kreuger.
"A lot of goals are scored within aminute of each other, because the team that scores first lets down, and I think we caught them flat," Downen said.
It was Downen's 12th goal of the year, and one of Centennial's biggest.
"Once we got that first goal, Thomas Stone wasn't the problem we thought they'd be," Baer said. "They had good forwards, but their midfield was their weak point, and Tod (Downen) played well in the midfield for us."
Baer, who had 18 goals this year, failed to score in a playoff game for the first time this season. "I couldn't care less as long as we won," he said.
Winning has been a way of life for Centennial soccer teams. Since
1982, no Centennial team has lost more than two games in any season.
Under Coach Bill Stara, who took the job in 1981, the school's record is 127-17-5, with four state titles.
"This is not my state championship," Stara said.
"This belongs to the players and the school. I'm just along for the ride."
Stara's players regard him with the utmost respect. That's why they follow his system even when they might prefer a less-disciplined one.
"The players are only allowed to do certain things in order to hide our weaknesses and play to our strengths," Stara said.
After the Eagles defeated highly regarded Calvert Hall 2-1 earlier this year, the team sometimeslapsed from Stara's rigid agenda, and some players created their own. That led to two ties -- 1-1 with Wilde Lake and 3-3 with Atholton.
"After Calvert Hall, which we thought would be our toughest game, we thought we were golden," Baer said. "But after the ties, we realized we needed the system."
After the Atholton tie, Stara got tough.
"I came to practice with a lawn chair and a newspaper, and told them if I'm not coaching you, then I'll just get you in shape," said Stara, who watched as the team did a lot of running that day.
"I wanted then to get the message they weren't the world-beaters they thought they might be."
Baer smiles now when he remembers that day. "He was right. We needed that."
"After Calvert Hall they lacked the same fire in their eyes," Stara said. "But in the playoffs, the desire came back."
Stara compares his system to the wishbone in football. The idea is to control the ball and pound away until you score. Almost every player has a specific role.
As an outside midfielder, freshman Doug Ulman's job was to kick the ball down the line to Baer or Rehan Gill, Centennial's junior forward.
Sophomore Allen Alejandro often was substituted into the game for his ability to make long throw-ins.
Gill, along with Downen, was superb in the air, and his knack for flicking balls into the goal with his head made him invaluable.
Senior All-State sweeper Cullen Meade "was the glue that heldour
defense together, especially on our bad days," Stara said.
For the state-champion Eagles, those days were few and far apart. They outscored their opponents, 48-13, this season and had seven shutouts.