Stephenson, Centennial rule, 3-0 Senior nets three goals in leading No. 1 Eagles to victory over Bel Air

September 25, 1996|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

Striker Matt Stephenson played second fiddle to Baltimore Sun All-Metro Player of the Year Brian West last season, because West was a senior and Stephenson only a junior.

Now, with West starting at Virginia, it is Stephenson's turn in the scoring spotlight, and he's proving that he can be every bit as potent as his former teammate.

Yesterday, against No. 5 Bel Air (2-1-1), Stephenson scored a hat trick, as the top-ranked Eagles (2-0) pounced on the visiting Bobcats, 3-0. Stephenson, a first-team All-Metro pick a year ago when he scored 11 goals and had eight assists for the Class 3A state champs, now has five goals in just two games.

His effort enabled Centennial, which is ranked third in the country, to stretch its winning streak to 34 games and its unbeaten streak to 36 games.

"He was the hardest guy to cover I ever played against," said Bel Air fullback Dave Sulkowski. "He has speed and a quick shot. Once he got a step, I had no time to recover."

Bel Air coach Bill Jefferson said: "He [Stephenson] was beating two or three of our guys. He had more skill than we could handle today."

Stephenson scored in the 10th, 19th and 47th minutes. The first and third goals came off passes from dominant center-midfielder Matt Laycock. The second one was off a pass from Stu Kessler.

The first goal was especially impressive. Stephenson was moving right to left at about the 18-yard line and kicked a left-footed shot off a belt-high bounce into the upper left part of the net -- a nearly unstoppable shot.

The second goal was right-footed, from just inside the left side of the box. The shot had a slight reverse curl and landed forcefully inside the far post and froze the Bel Air goalkeeper, Ian Minnichbach.

The third goal was scored from close range in the middle of the field off a cross by Laycock from the right side.

"I was hoping it would help us to have played a couple more games than them. And I expected more control and less aggression [from them]," Jefferson said. "They kicked it long, and a great individual took over. You can stop him nine of 10 times, but then he gets you."

Laycock, who teamed with Brian Otten in the center midfield, thought Bel Air's strategy to clog up the midfield by playing three-on-two was successful.

"If they hadn't clogged it up, we could have gotten Matt [Stephenson] more balls, and he could have scored more," Laycock said.

Otten thought Bel Air, which the Eagles beat 4-1 in the state Class 3A championship game and 2-0 in the regular season last year, played its normal style.

"Thank goodness Matt could score today, because the rest of us weren't hitting," Otten said.

Centennial's defense, led by sweeper Ben Stephenson, held Bel Air to seven shots.

Pub Date: 9/25/96

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