Jack Brown didn’t strike a soccer ball for three days.
Since suffering an ankle injury at the tail end of his team’s victory over Walkersville in the Class 2A West Region II final, the Oakdale senior didn’t even partake in the penalty kicks portion of the Bears most recent practice.
Then on Saturday, after host Oakdale and North Harford had played 100 minutes of soccer, Brown found himself lining up a PK with a chance to kick his team into the state semifinals. If any rust had set in during his three-day absence, a strong track record in these situations more than made up for it.
“I was confident that it was going in,” said Brown, who indeed came through as the Bears’ fourth shooter in a shootout that followed two scoreless 10-minute overtime periods, striking the ball into the lower left corner of the net.
An elated Brown then sprinted to the fence surrounding Oakdale’s home stadium to enjoy the moment with a large student section, starting the celebration of a state quarterfinal victory during which the Bears faced a two-goal deficit with just 31 minutes remaining in regulation.
Now Oakdale (13-0-3) finds itself in the state semifinals for the fourth time in the past six seasons. The Bears will take on Century at Montgomery Blair High on Nov. 9. Game time has not been determined.
Before Brown delivered against North Harford (10-5), teammates Riley Daiger, Daniel Ivanov and Caleb Andree had all converted on their penalty kicks while the Hawks missed their first two attempts, hitting the crossbar with one shot and firing another over the crossbar.
Even though he had never attempted a penalty kick in a game, Brown said he had gone a combined 10-for-10 in practice throughout the course of the season.
“I haven’t missed at practice yet, so I was pretty confident,” Brown said. “And when it went in, it was just a thrill.”
Oakdale devotes practice time to penalty kicks in each practice, with each of the Bears taking one penalty kick in their most recent practice. Daiger said they went 21-for-22.
Daiger’s right foot played a big role in Oakdale even getting a chance to advance in the shootout.
North Harford broke a 1-1 tie in the 42nd minute when Javier Mejia converted on a close-range shot, and then Henry Mejia made a dynamic run down the left flank in the 49th minute before delivering a beautiful cross that Matt Biederman converted for a two-goal lead.
“I didn’t think [our chances] were too hot, but there was always a chance,” Daiger said. “We knew we needed to score. That was just about it.”
Oakdale coach Mitch Rubin ordered a change for the Bears’ normal 4-5-1 formation to a 4-4-2 in order to get an extra forward in front of North Harford goalkeeper Gavin Barker. It marked the first time Oakdale had utilized the formation, and Rubin knew the move involved some risk and left the door open for counterattacks.
“My biggest fear ... was that we were going to give up a fourth [goal],” Rubin said. “I’m not sure so sure that we could come back from that.”
Daiger gave the Bears some life in the 51st minute, settling a free kick from Owen Cunha near the 6-yard box before pumping home a shot that cut the deficit in half. Oakdale then proceeded to vigorously challenge for every 50-50 ball, keeping North Harford pinned in its own end of the field for much of the remaining time in regulation.
Off two Leo Quintanilla corner kicks, the Bears almost tied the match on headers, with Daiger’s hitting the crossbar and Brown’s fluttering just over it in the 60th and 61st minute, respectively. A minute later, Quintanilla threaded a nice pass through the middle of the box to Daiger, who tied the match.
North Harford had two golden chances to win the match, as Biederman’s shot from the left side of the box with less than 10 seconds left trickled just wide of the far post. Then Bears keeper Dylan Miller made a brilliant diving save with just under seven minutes left in the second overtime period on a shot by Javier Mejia.
“It was a fun game to play,” Daiger said.
Rubin said the Bears haven’t played their best soccer during the playoffs, saying each of their three opponents have matched Oakdale’s work rate. But Rubin, in his 25th year of coaching, has never seen any of his high school teams rally from a two-goal halftime deficit, so he commended his team for its mental toughness.
“These guys are pretty amazing,” Rubin said. “They’re resilient. And we fully believed.
“I didn’t know we were going to win when we were down 3-1. I knew when we made it 3-2, we were going to really get in this thing.”