The difference between a blowout and barnburner can often be traced back to just one or two keys plays.
That was the case on Thursday afternoon when host Northwestern posted a 4-0 victory over Salisbury in the quarterfinals of the District 11 Class AA Soccer Tournament.
The score indicates a Tiger blowout, but if not for a couple of huge individual efforts in the opening minutes – one on offense and the other on defense – it might have been a barnburner.
Jim Hoover made the first big play for Northwestern when he knocked home a rebound just :58 into the game to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
"We had just talked to the kids about hustling and going hard to the net before they went on the field and then Jimmy did exactly that in the opening minute," said Northwestern coach Fernando Carrizo. "Curtis [Cappuccino] got off a nice shot and Jimmy was right there to follow it up and put it in the net."
The next big play for the Tigers occurred on the defensive end of the field a short time later. Salisbury sent in a corner kick and leading scorer Sean Baker headed the ball for what looked like it was going to be the tying goal.
But Northwestern fullback Luke Stuby cleared it off the line from his position inside the right goal post.
"Luke was exactly where he was suppose to be on a corner kick and made a great play to keep it out of the net," said Carrizo. "That was a huge play because if they score there it could change the entire momentum of the game."
With their lead preserved, the Tigers took control a short time later as David Haaf was credited with a pair of goals within the span of just over a minute to make it 3-0. Haaf got his first goal off a feed from Cappuccino with 13:29 left in the opening half. He was then awarded his second goal at the 12:18 mark when Salisbury allowed an own goal.
"Northwestern came out of the gate quickly," said Salisbury coach Mark Allinson. "We have a pretty young team and I think them scoring so early put us back on our heels a little bit.
"But I felt the key play of the game was when Sean [Baker] headed the ball off our corner kick and their defender cleared it just before it crossed the goal line. If we get that goal it's a new game and who knows what happens after that."
The Tigers added the only goal of the second half with 30:13 remaining when Hoover took a cross from Trevor Lear and headed the ball between the legs of Salisbury goalie Chad Heidecker.
After needing a penalty kick to edge Salisbury 1-0 when the teams met during the regular season, Northwestern was much more in command in this one.
"We are a much better team right now then we were when we played them early in the season," said Carrizo. "The players are more comfortable in their positions and are playing better as a team.
"It takes all 11 players on the field working hard and working together to be successful at this stage of the season and that's what we had today."
Northwestern, now 15-5 on the season, will face Southern Lehigh in the semifinals on Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Whitehall.