Always the groomsman; almost never the groom.
Ok, so that’s not exactly how that saying goes, but it aptly describes the plight of the Fallston High boys soccer team in the state championship game. The 14th-ranked Cougars’ season ended with a 3-2 overtime loss to Washington County’s Brunswick at Loyola University’s Ridley Athletic Complex.
For the ninth time in 10 state final appearances, Fallston is state runner-up.
“Heartbreaking end,” said Cougars coach Christopher Hoover, whose squad finished 12-5-1. “The first half of the match, Brunswick played really well. They continued to push the ball to overwhelm our backs and midfield and caused us to panic a little bit. I thought the second half, we regrouped and got a lot of play towards them. I felt confident in the guys the entire second half as we went through. We were moving the ball; we were connecting passes. We were doing a great job on defense. We came through with a goal with three minutes to go. We were cutting it a little close.
“I thought we had the momentum going into overtime and just didn’t get the goal.”
Fallston center defender Jayden Dillard forced the extra period with a timely header off a long and well-placed free kick by Dylan Shepherd to forge a 2-2 tie with two minutes, 13 seconds left in regulation.
Just over a minute into the extra frame, Brunswick (17-2-1) senior midfielder Will Burton grabbed possession of the ball inside the goalie box and then flicked a pass through two Fallston defenders to an open Logan Malone. Malone tapped the ball into the net for his second state championship “golden goal.”
Last year, Malone’s overtime walk-off gave the Railroaders a 2-1 victory over a stunned Cougar squad in the 1A state final.
“I always knew it could be a possibility, but I had no idea (if it would happen),” said Malone of another golden goal. “I knew it was super unlikely, but I’m so happy I did that. I saw it going on. I was like `Dang, you did it again.’”
Similar to last year, the Cougars struck first captain Ethan Salsa finished a pass from Ben Kripas that was started by a dangerous Shepherd cross with 37:36 left in the first half.
Shepherd sent his cross from right to left and just out of the reach of Railroaders goalkeeper Finn McGannon and to Kripas, who was making a run toward the back post. Kripas not only saved the ball from reaching the touchline but directed it to Salsa, whose sliding shot went unmolested into the goal.
After being denied a breakaway on a diving save by Fallston goalkeeper Dylan Kreis (10 saves), Brunswick tied the game on a goal by Marvin Vasquez Molina with roughly 25 minutes left in the opening half.
After having his corner kick cleared by a Fallston header, Noah Paschadlides sent the ball back into the penalty area where Vasquez Molina headed the lofty pass expertly into the right side of the goal.
Roughly 4 1/2 minutes later, Burton received a neatly placed pass from Rickey Cicmanec and slotted the ball past Kreis for a 2-1 Brunswick lead as a change in formation by the Railroaders allowed them to create passing lanes and open looks against Fallston’s back defensive line.
“That was something that we really worked on all week,” Brunswick coach Shawn Baker said. “We changed formations to something different, something we really haven’t done this year. After watching the film, the Allegany game they had, we saw they played three in the back and tried to hit that long ball, so we played two up top.
“We sat three midfielders a little bit higher that way we could press, try to win the ball on our end (and) try to prevent them from hitting that (long) ball, and then we worked on finding the guys in the runs, and the gaps, and the pockets earlier this week just to kind of prep for it. They did a really nice job of it.”
Brunswick kept up the pressure in the first half as Burton nearly scored again with 17:30 remaining in the first half, but Kreis won this one-on-one battle and another one with Ryan Domathoti with 7:25 left before halftime to keep his squad within a goal at the break.
The second half was filled with some near misses, clutch saves, and a lot of yellow cards. It looked headed for a Brunswick regulation win until Dillard broke through late with his header.
He said Shepherd’s kick “barely skimmed my head.”
“It was a good send-in by Dylan Shepherd, and Jayden’s always a threat in the box with his height and getting up and challenge for the ball, rather its the offensive end or defensive end,” Hoover said.
Besides the two goals, Fallston’s offense was mostly bottled up by Brunswick’s back four of Sam Verosto, Alex Miranda, Daniel Cabeza, and Vasquez Molina along with the team’s midfielders, who dropped back to clog up the middle of the field.
Baker said the goal was to limit the Cougars’ top scorers Christian Worthington and Shepherd.
“We just needed to make sure they were covered,” said Baker of Worthington and Shepherd. “(His defense) knew they played pretty direct up to the two forwards. Anytime we saw head up, head down looking for that long ball, we tried to sink a little bit to keep everything in front. That was just the idea: to keep them in front and contain them. If somebody did something for them try to make sure it wasn’t (Worthington) or (Shepherd).”
Saturday marked the end of the illustrious careers of Worthington and Shepherd, who combined for 53 goals and 26 assists this fall for Fallston, which only state title triumph came in 1992 (1A).
“Obviously, we scored with three minutes left. We’re feeling good. Just want to go to overtime,” said Worthington, who booted in a team-high 30 goals this season. “It feels like overtime didn’t even happen. We didn’t have a chance to do anything. It feels like they had the ball the whole time (in overtime). I think it was an honor to be here. I’m still happy.”
CLASS 1A STATE CHAMPIONSHIP
at Loyola University/Ridley Athletic Complex
BRUNSWICK 3, NO. 14 FALLSTON 2 (OT)
Fallston 1 1 0 - 2
Brunswick 2 0 1 - 3
GOALS: Fallston - Ethan Salsa, Jayden Dillard; Brunswick - Marvin Vasquez Molina, Will Burton, Logan Malone.
ASSISTS: Fallston - Ben Kripas, Dylan Shepherd; Brunswick - Burton, Noah Paschadlides, Rickey Cicmanec.
SAVES: Fallston - Dylan Kreis 10. Brunswick - Finn McGannon 2.