CORTLAND - One week ago, Howland's Marlon Szczepaniak was just a member of the junior varsity team, hoping to see a few varsity minutes here and there.
Howland coach George Stevens promoted him to the varsity level last week, and when the Tigers visited Lakeview at Don Richards Memorial Stadium on Thursday night, Szczepaniak showed exactly why Stevens brought him up. The junior forward scored two second-half goals to lead Howland to a 3-1 non-conference win over the previously unbeaten Bulldogs.
"I was so excited," Szczepaniak said. "That first one was just amazing, and I wasn't even expecting the second one. It feels so good to score my first two goals on varsity, and I think I can do much more for my team.
"This was my biggest game minutes-wise. I got a lot today, and I was really thankful to the coach."
On both goals, Szczepaniak and the Tigers (7-1-3) hit the Bulldogs (9-1-1) on the counter, as Lakeview pushed forward to try and find an equalizer.
With Howland up 1-0 in the 58th minute, Szczepaniak received a pass on the left side of the penalty area from teammate Benji Rush and sent a low shot to the far side of the net to get past Lakeview goalkeeper Jackson Gagne. His second came in the 79th minute with the Tigers leading, 2-1, and the Bulldogs having just two guys back in defense. The junior created some space on the edge of the penalty box before sending another low shot into the net.
"We were susceptible to the counterattack because we were pushing guys forward, and they sprung loose, got a quality shot," Lakeview coach Nate Mailach said. "No. 21's (Szczepaniak) a quality striker up top. We knew he was dangerous."
The match was a physical one, and although Stevens said his team preferred more possession-oriented play, it seemed to suit the Tigers better than the Bulldogs.
Still, neither team was innocent from the physicality, however, as both teams combined for more than 30 fouls, four yellow cards and a red card to Lakeview's Matt Pasternak in the 65th minute.
"We were trying to play more of a possession ball because we knew that Lakeview would be very physical," Stevens said. "They kind of drew us into that, and it's too bad. A red card this late in the season is not good for any team, and that was probably one of their better players. I feel bad for the Lakeview boys, but it was a good win for our guys."
While Lakeview struggled in the first half in trying to dictate its style, the Bulldogs enjoyed much more possession in the second half, even when they went down a man for the final 15 minutes.
Lakeview's lone goal came in the 70th minute, with Colton Ainsley converting a penalty to Howland goalkeeper Kurt Kuszmaul's left. The Bulldogs caused the penalty by being aggressive in the final third and forcing contact in the box.
Mailach said he hopes the team can build off the second-half performance and learn from this loss going into tournament time.
"In the second half, I thought we dominated the game, and (the talk at) halftime was to keep the ball on the ground," Mailach said. "We're not going to win balls in the air against that team. They're too big, too tall, too physical. Once we started putting it on the ground, we started making a run. When we played with 10 guys, they gave one heck of an effort, and they should be commended."
Despite making a big impression on Thursday night, Szczepaniak said he's still got some work to do to cement a spot on the varsity roster. Scoring his first two varsity goals against Lakeview certainly doesn't hurt.
"I'm really hoping I did," Szczepaniak said. "I don't think it's set in stone yet - I'm going to need to prove myself a little bit more, but I think I'm on the road."