LANDOVER – Bowie High School senior Justin Zavala was set to take a free kick approximately 40 yards from the goal. His task was to get the ball to the post, in a position for the Bulldogs attackers to put a shot on net and break a 1-1 tie.
He did more than that. From the left side of the field, Zavala’s free kick curled into the top left corner of the goal. The Bulldogs sideline erupted. Zavala’s teammates mobbed him mere feet from where he scored the improbable goal.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Zavala said.
It was the go-ahead goal in the Prince George’s County Public Schools Boys Soccer County Championship game and helped Bowie continue to turn the tide in a 4-1 victory over International High School at Langley Park (IHSLP). The Phoenix had the better looks throughout the first 20 minutes, but Bowie’s pressure and depth eventually wore IHSLP down and allowed the Bulldogs to win their third straight county title.
Bowie also prevailed against the Phoenix for each of its previous two county titles, winning 4-1 in 2017 and 2-0 in 2018.
This year though was different than the previous two. IHSLP Head Coach Daniel Sass said that last year his team played five defenders and three central defensive midfielders, just to try to survive and maybe have a chance in the end.
“This year the plan was to man-mark (Bowie junior forward Michael Adekanmbi) and I had my freshman on him the entire game,” Sass said. “Josue Ceron was incredible, just shadowed Michael and bottled up the best player in the county. Bowie has so many weapons we kind of dared them to beat us with (Julius Haynes), (Thierry Enoh), (Samuel Sesay) and they did it.”
That strategy worked well early on, as IHSLP came out with more energy and dictated the tempo of the game. The Phoenix had several close calls in the first 20 minutes, forcing Bowie goalie Michael Hicks to step up and make some big saves.
But the Bulldogs withstood that pressure and started to flip it back on IHSLP. With 15:27 remaining in the first half, Enoh intercepted an outlet pass on the right side of the field, controlled the ball and scored for the first goal of the game.
It was the first of Enoh’s two goals, cementing what has been a comeback season for the junior. He missed the early parts of the season recovering from a knee injury, and he helped Bowie get on the board and later break open the game.
“Before the game, I wasn’t really confident and didn’t know what to expect,” Enoh said. “Once I stepped on the field, I let all of that go and put it all behind me and I really stepped up because my team had to dig deep and I had to dig deep too.”
Enoh’s second goal was similar to his first. He intercepted another outlet pass, this time on the left side of the field, and scored.
The Phoenix never really threatened again and Bowie’s Haynes capped off the night with a breakaway goal with 5:46 remaining.
Senior Jonathan Alvarado scored IHSLP’s only goal with 7:14 remaining in the first half, putting one into the back of the net after the ball bounced around the box.
Though the game does not count towards either team’s official record, both used it to help prepare for deep playoff runs.
The Phoenix have been to two consecutive state semifinals and playing a team like Bowie gives them the confidence they can get there again.
“For my boys to prove they can play with a team like Bowie, the scoreline might say 4-1 but we weren’t outclassed by any stretch of the imagination and were right there with them,” Sass said. “We can play with anybody.”
For Bowie, it was another game to continue to adjust before another run at a state championship. Head Coach Frantz Deetjen said his team changed tactics following an overtime loss to Charles H. Flowers on Sept. 23, and the Bulldogs have hit their stride, going 7-1 since.
“We went from a 4-3-3 where we weren’t showing the hustle and the heart to the midfield,” Deetjen said. “And what we had to do is we had to put more players in the midfield, and that’s what sparked the turnaround.”