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By Shaun Broy - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The Handley Bowl can be an intimidating environment for any team to play in, and considering that Kettle Run was playing its first game in the month of April, it was a bit surprising to see the Cougars score just 28 seconds into Thursday's match against the Judges.
It was equally surprising to see the Cougars take a three-goal lead less than 20 minutes into the game. In the end, that's all they would need, as Kettle Run hung on for a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
The two teams came into the match with a combined record of 11-1 overall, outscoring their opponents 56-6 so far this season.
Kettle Run (6-0) showed no signs of being even slightly intimidated or rusty as they took to the pitch against Handley (6-2). They were a confident, well-oiled machine that kicked it in high gear right from the whistle.
Cougars senior Casey Cooke took the ball off the opening whistle, while racing up the right flank of the field. In the blink of an eye, he sent a low, crossing rocket of a pass that connected with the right foot of Andy Bourdeau, who put the ball in the net.
"We knew coming in that it was going to be a tight game," Handley coach Cosmo Balio said. "Our guys fell asleep. I don't know how you don't get focused right off the bat and get scored on 28 seconds into the game."
"We have a fairly fast team and we knew that playing on the turf would help us out quite a bit," Kettle Run coach Philip Roper said. "The guys have been anxious to play and we were ready."
The Cougars continued to roll. In the ninth minute, junior Reid Turnure passed the ball to senior Brandon Hartman, who slipped by two defenders up the middle of the field and lofted the ball over Handley goalkeeper David Cesnik into the net.
Kettle Run scored its final goal in the 18th minute of play. Cooke dribbled the ball down the center of the field, right past a number of Handley defenders, and crossed the ball towards the far post of the goal. His teammate Davy Ahn met the ball en route and tapped it into the goal from just a few yards out.
"It honestly looked like Handley came out a little flat, and I think we were able to take advantage of it," Roper said.
The Cougars continued to control the game, while the Judges weren't able to capitalize on the few opportunities they had that far in the game to score. Kettle Run enjoyed a visible size advantage, as the Cougars seemed to tower over the smaller Judges. The Cougars controlled the ball in the air, while also using their speed to apply continuous pressure towards the Judges' goal.
"They are a much bigger team," Balio said. "We were playing the ball in the air against them in the first half and there was absolutely no way we were going to put a ball over a line of trees."
The Judges were awarded a penalty kick in the 33rd minute of play when contact was made just inside the box, sending junior Eduardo Santiago to the line. His kick was thwarted by Cougars keeper Ryan Schmidt, who punched the ball back towards Santiago for a second chance. Santiago took advantage, tapping the ball past Schmidt and into the net.
The goal finally sparked Handley, as the Judges played with some momentum going into halftime down 3-1.
Handley was awarded another penalty kick opportunity just three minutes into the second half, when senior Geovanni Jimenez was taken down hard inside the box. This time it was junior Deni Deyanov who stepped up to the line and pulled his team within a goal of tying the game with a solid shot into the back of the net.
The second half saw a more even matchup, as the Judges adjusted to a 4-4-2 formation and began moving more aggressively to the ball. It was too little, too late for Handley to crawl out of the early hole.
As time wound down, neither team could capitalize on prime scoring opportunities and the Cougars held on for the win.
"I believe they are one of the top teams on our region right now," Balio said of Kettle Run. "I love playing tough teams out of district because it makes us better."