River Hill 2,

Mount Hebron 1

Matt Stara's hands were the difference in yesterday's boys' soccer showdown between No. 3 River Hill and No. 6 Mount Hebron in Ellicott City.

River Hill won, 2-1, after Stara scored a goal on a 30-yard throw-in in third minute, and another of his long throws led to Theo Byrd's goal in the 12th minute. The Hawks (9-1, 7-1 Howard County) sent the host Vikings to their first loss of the season and took control of the race for the county title.

"Matt's throw-ins are a huge advantage for us because any time we can get within 30 yards of the goal, it's like having a corner kick," Byrd said. "We couldn't have asked for a better way to start the game, and Matt was a big part of that."

River Hill, the two-time defending Maryland 3A champion, can clinch its third county title in the past four years by defeating Howard on Friday and Glenelg on Monday. Mount Hebron (10-1-1, 6-1-1) will need to post victories over Long Reach and Wilde Lake and hope the Hawks stumble if it is to win its first county title since 2000. That was also the last year the Vikings defeated River Hill.

Yesterday's game could have been an opening act -- the teams could wind up facing each in the Maryland 3A East Region semifinals. The Hawks earned the second seed and Mount Hebron the third seed for the second consecutive year.

Stara, a junior defender who has 12 assists via throw-ins, gave River Hill a 1-0 lead when his throw-in deflected off the hands of Mount Hebron's goalkeeper. A player cannot score directly off a throw-in; the ball must be touched by another player before crossing the end line.

Fewer than 10 minutes later -- from nearly the same spot on the right sideline -- Stara lofted a throw-in to Byrd, whose header hit a defenseman's chest. The ball fell right to Byrd, who scored easily from a few yards away.

Mount Hebron made it 2-1 in the 56th minute, when senior midfielder Eric Shadoff headed in a cross from senior midfielder Jordan Hoolachan. Shadoff just missed scoring the equalizing goal in the 67th minute. His high shot from just outside the left side of penalty area deflected off the near post, flew across the goal mouth and hit the other post, bouncing to the ground and rolling back toward the center of the goal, a few inches inside the end line. Goalkeeper Matt Moss scooped up the ball before the Vikings could get to it.

"I thought the shot was in," Mount Hebron Coach Mike Linsenmeyer said. "It was really sad to see how we played in the first half, and River Hill dominated us. But in the second half I thought we dominated the game, but we just couldn't get that goal."

River Hill's Theo Byrd, right, slides the ball through the legs of Nick Dimarco and past keeper Ryan Kreh for a goal set up by Matt Stara's 30-yard throw-in.Mount Hebron's Josh Bostic, left, and Chris Franzcowski tangle for the ball with River Hill's Stefan Schaffer.