Credit Aaron Lighter, Herald Mail, September 14, 2018
Facing pressure on its own side of the field for much of the second half, Hagerstown Community College was doing everything it could to hold onto a one-goal lead.
When Howard Community College eventually found an equalizer midway through the half, the Hawks had a simple solution.
"We had to grab that ball out of the back of the net and get right back to it," said Hagerstown defender Jordi Velazquez. "That's how the game goes. Whoever wants it the most wins."
Despite continued pressure from the Dragons, Hagerstown eventually got on the counterattack and Herber Cruz lofted a shot into the back of the net for the game-winning goal as the Hawks beat Howard 2-1 for its first Maryland JUCO win of the season on Friday.
"This is really big for us," Velazquez said. "We defeated one of the top teams from last year that won (the Region XX title) to go to nationals. A team like that, to beat them the next year, that's talent. We have a good group of guys that was ready for it."
Howard (3-3, 2-1) tallied 15 shots in the second half, with seven on target and multiple shots going just wide.
Hagerstown (2-3, 1-1) turned to goalie Yusupha Fofana, who made 10 saves in the the game — five coming in the second half to keep the Hawks in front.
The Dragons originally thought they found an equalizer early in the second half before the officials disallowed it due to an offside call. In the 66th minute, however, Howard's Jose Garcia Monterrosa tied the game with a tap-in off a deflection.
"From that one goal, we knew had to get straight back into the game," Velazquez said. "This is our turf, our battlefield and we're not just going to give up. We had a full 11 players ready to play, we had each other's backs and that's what happened at the end of the game."
Five minutes after the restart, Cruz broke free on the wing and lifted the ball over the head of Kevin Villalta to put Hagerstown back in front with 19 minutes left to play.
The Hawks faced constant pressure the rest of the way, but the defense held strong and Fofana made a big save late to maintain the advantage and secure the victory.
It's the first big victory for the Hawks under the guidance of head coach CJ Trammell, with the Dragons coming off a 14-6-1 season which saw them earn a berth in the NJCAA Division III national tournament.
"That Howard team is a good team," Trammell said. "They're probably going to compete for their part of the conference. That says a lot about our guys just to be resilient, work together for 90 minutes and win the game."
The close victory marked Hagerstown's fourth consecutive game decided by one goal, with the Hawks losing two of the previous three.
"They bought into, 'Hey, we've got to defend and fight,'" said Trammell. "As a defender, that's how it has to be sometimes. It's not always going to be pretty, but that's just how it goes."
In the first half, Logan Woodruff gave HCC a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute on a header.
From that point, the Hawks spent most of the time fending off attacks by the Dragons. In the end, they were able to do so to pull off the victory.
"We told them this would be a tough conference match and it was going to come down to who wanted it more," Trammell said. "I told them before with the conditions that it was going to be ugly. You gotta win the ugly games because if you don't, they'll come back to bite you."