By: Nate Acuna
The varsity boys soccer Regional Final between the Mt. Hebron Vikings and Centennial Eagles was a much-anticipated matchup of two bitter long-time Howard County rivals. Whenever these two schools go head to head, there is always bad blood involved. It just so happened to occur that these two would meet in the playoffs.
The Eagles entered with a record of 10-2-2, falling twice to Arundel and Atholton High School. The Vikings came into this game with a 12-1-1 record, their one loss coming from Centennial earlier in the season. During the 2019-20 regular season, the Vikings and Eagles tied 2-2 in a 2OT thriller, so Mt. Hebron players knew what was at stake for this showdown. They were looking to finally get over the hump and take down their enemy. They were looking for revenge.
Entering the game on Nov. 2 the Vikings players’ confidence was at a peak. Mt. Hebron junior, and starting left-wing Ilya Likakis noted, “we were pretty confident. Right off the bat, I felt like we were going to win.” Mt. Hebron was very opportunistic in the opening minutes, however, the momentum soon started to shift in the Eagles’ favor.
“The first ten minutes had me rattled and they had many chances,” Mt. Hebron senior, and starting defender, Lewis Hollander, claims. The Eagles were soaring high, maintaining possession of the ball and controlling the tempo of the game.
Although Centennial’s players continued to pour it on early, Mt. Hebron slowly fought their way back into play. In the increasingly noticeable fog, the two teams started to get more physical as the game progressed. When asked about the physicality of the affair compared to other Mt. Hebron/Centennial games in recent years, Hollander said it “was more personal than usual” this time around. “It was competitive, more physical than any other game,” Likakis said.
At the end of the first half, the scoreboard showed 0-0. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t any drama, though, as the two rivals only became more hungry to put their team ahead. As the fog finally set in, the Mt. Hebron turf was wet and slippery, which had an effect on the game in the second half.
The field conditions made it harder for players to settle the ball, make accurate passes, and play at a consistent speed. The story of the second half remained just like the first, but Mt. Hebron started to open up more opportunities to score. Centennial’s defense remained potent and created offense from their counter-attacks, so with all of the back and forth action, somebody was going to have to break through eventually.
Unfortunately for the Vikings, hope seemed all but lost after Centennial scored with just over 6 minutes left to play in the game. Mt. Hebron’s student section was stunned in silence along with parents, staff, teachers, and other attendees. “I thought it was over,” Hollander said. “Coach [Linsenmeyer] told us we’re entering crisis formation. We had never practiced it.” With the Eagles leading 1-0 in the final minutes of the game, time was ticking, and it was ticking fast.
“Crisis formation” had only two defenders back, a sort of ‘last gasp’ for the Vikings to try and create some magic. Mt. Hebron freshman, and starting striker, Shalom Adja, claims he “honestly thought it was over, but if it was going to be the last 6 minutes of the season, I had to play the best that I could.”
With three minutes and some to spare, Centennial’s goalie mishandled the ball, forming a mad scramble inside the box. Luckily enough for Mt. Hebron, Likakis passed it to midfielder Jimmy Linsenmeyer and he scored the tying goal. In miraculous fashion, somehow the Vikings were back in the game.
There was no quit in them. In a matter of minutes, pure despair turned into a jubilant celebration for Mt. Hebron supporters, and vice versa for Centennial. Crisis averted.
“We had momentum, I thought we had it at that point,” Hollander said.
So the Vikings carried their momentum into overtime. With under a minute left from a double-overtime contest, a pass in the air fell right into the feet of Adja. He took a few dribbles before lining up the perfect shot, shooting it with his left foot into the net. The game had finally concluded, and Mt. Hebron students stormed the field to celebrate with the players and coaches.
“When I saw the ball go in, I was so happy while running to the corner flag. I was jumping and screaming because I knew we had just won a regional championship,” Adja said. “That was definitely a night I will never forget, it felt like a dream.” Students lifted Adja into the air and held him up, solidifying his hero status for what could be talked about as one of the greatest Hebron vs. Centennial boys soccer games of all time.
Hollander describes his emotions after winning as “euphoric. It felt like it was out of a movie, especially with the fog… a once in a lifetime thing.” Mt. Hebron snatched victory from the hands of defeat, and they were off to play CM Wright the following Saturday.
Similarly, Adja “was so happy” about the win. “I went to bed with my head up and focused on the next team we’re playing,” he said. The Vikings were marching on to the state quarterfinals, and for the Eagles, a memorable season has come to an end in a heartbreaker.