Thomas Stone Coach Mike Emrick claims the regular season does not mean much. Try telling that to his players.
After a listless first half Thursday night, the Cougars (11-1, 10-1 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference) unleashed an offensive blitzkrieg upon La Plata's (6-6-1, 6-2-1) defense and pulled out a 2-1 victory when senior forward Brian Moroz scored the game-winner in the final minute.
The win, Thomas Stone's seventh straight, gave the Cougars its first SMAC title since 1996.
"La Plata beat us the last two years I've been here, so I had to win my senior year," Moroz said. "It was a must."
With time winding down in regulation, Moroz, standing with his back to the goal in the middle of the penalty area, took a feed from junior forward Rusty Pentz. Fighting off two defenders, Moroz turned and fired a shot past La Plata goalkeeper Michael Consalvo.
"The ball just popped in," Moroz said. "I did what I had to do--turned and shot. The goalie was out of position, and we won the game."
Thomas Stone dominated throughout, outshooting La Plata, 20-4 (13-4 in the second half), and holding possession in the Warriors' half of the field for most of the game. Despite the constant pressure, the Cougars couldn't get past Consalvo, who made eight saves.
"That goalkeeper's outstanding," Pentz said. "He saved a couple of shots I thought were definitely going in."
Another problem was the slick field. Heavy rain from the night before made cleats nearly worthless, and players from both sides fell often.
"Footing is always a big part of soccer," Moroz said. "Good teams adjust to the terrain."
In the first half, Thomas Stone's only scoring threat came on a 25-yard blast by Aaron Breeds. Consalvo lunged and turned it aside, but once the second half started, he faced greater pressure.
Pentz opened the scoring when he volleyed home a Moroz cross in the 49th minute. Two minutes earlier, La Plata nearly took the lead when John-David Metcalf hit the inside of the post on a curling 20-yard shot. The rebound ricocheted directly onto Steve Logsdin's foot, but with the entire net in front of him, he tapped a shot too lightly and Stone keeper Ryan Tomosko recovered to clear the ball.
The Warriors tied the game at 1 in the 69th minute, after a defensive breakdown on a counterattack allowed sophomore Wyatt Sagers room to drill an uncontested shot past Tomosko from 15 yards.
The Cougars continued to apply pressure, however, and finally got the winner in the 80th minute.
"We've been doing that for years," Emrick said. "I know we can come back. It's just a matter of heart, and we have heart. High school soccer is 50 percent skill and 50 percent heart."
La Plata may not have to wait long for a rematch with the defending state 3A co-champions. If the Warriors get by Chopticon in their first-round game at the end of this week, they will head back to Thomas Stone in the 3A South Region quarterfinals.
"Our goals [Thursday] were not to win the game," La Plata Coach Chris Butler said. "Our goal was to prove to ourselves that we can play with heart and desire as well as skill. I'm proud of our performance, and this was a good momentum-builder for the playoffs."