McDonough 2, Huntingtown 1
Brandon Gross's game is all about gambling. The McDonough striker is basically on the receiving end of a pitch-and-catch game with Rams teammates Brian Richter, B.J. Jamieson and Martin Mayle.
Whenever those three gain possession around midfield, they look ahead for Gross and lob a pass his way. Sometimes the pass is a shade off, other times it takes a nasty bounce, and plenty of times tough defenders play the right angle and break it up.
But with less than two minutes to play in the second overtime Tuesday night at Huntingtown, Richter's feed to Gross was perfect. It floated along the right side of the field over two Hurricanes and met Gross's feet about 40 yards away. A couple of dribbles gave way to a tough, wide-angle shot that found the top left corner to give McDonough a 2-1 victory.
Gross thrust his arms skyward as the McDonough bench rushed the field in what might be practice for a bigger celebration. The victory moved the Rams another step closer to clinching their first Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title. McDonough (10-1-1 overall, 7-1-1 SMAC) faces Patuxent tonight, and it very well could be playing for the conference title Monday night in the season's final SMAC game at Westlake.
"It's not there yet, but the pressure is getting bigger and bigger," Richter said. "This one was just amazing. This is probably the biggest game of the year."
And that's what makes the payoff from Gross's gambling all the more sweet for McDonough. As the Rams controlled play in the first half, they kept trying to spring Gross with high, arcing feeds that did not take too kindly to the hard Huntingtown turf.
When one finally got through in the 39th minute, Huntingtown junior goalkeeper Matt Deacon made a spectacular save from point-blank range. Gross knows -- that on a good day -- one out of 10 passes ahead connects with him in a good scoring position, and probably half of those are converted. The slim odds don't faze him.
"You've got to keep going for it all the time," Gross said. "Even when you miss, you've got to stay focused. If I miss a chance, my head doesn't go down, because I know I'll get another opportunity."
McDonough opened the scoring in a more conventional manner in the 20th minute.
Senior midfielder Andrew Coombs gained possession in the middle about eight yards out, after a Richter free kick bounced off a several legs and onto his right foot. Coombs pivoted and found the far right corner of the net.
The second half began, though, with Huntingtown more energetic and on point with its passes. The Hurricanes were playing for the first time in two weeks, after a rash of rainouts.
In the 45th minute, Hurricanes senior midfielder Jimmy Nietmann gained control after McDonough missed a header in front of its own net. Nietmann found the lower right corner from 12 yards out to tie the game.
But McDonough continued to take its chances with Gross. In the 65th minute, a Jamieson pass found Gross about 50 yards away. Gross had a step on the last Huntingtown defender and fired a shot from about 20 yards out that hit the sweet spot of the crossbar and caromed aside.
Huntingtown tried several tactics to disrupt Gross, including a four-man back line.
"We could have put him offsides a couple of times," Hurricanes Coach Chris Morgan said, "but then you have to trust the official is going to make the right call."
In the opening minute of the second overtime, Rams senior defender Joon Song made a brilliant rush along the right side and centered to Gross, whose shot from about 10 yards out barely missed the left corner.
But Gross knew his next chance couldn't be far behind, even though time was running out. Richter picked up a loose ball at midfield, took a couple of dribbles and saw a gap in Huntingtown's defense -- the ideal setting for a lob to Gross.
"I just saw that gap and figured it might work there," Richter said.
It finally did.