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WILLOW HILL >> It's still very early in the boys soccer season, but when McConnellsburg traveled to Fannett-Metal on Monday afternoon for a Sideling Hill League matchup, it had the feel of a game to determine the top dog in the SHL.

The Spartans were likely the favorite in most minds before Monday's game. After their 3-0 victory, that feeling should be unanimous.

"This was definitely our best game," McConnellsburg coach Cory Houck said. "We finally clicked as a team. I've never been so frustrated after three consecutive wins as I was to start the season, because the guys hadn't played as well as they did in practice or the preseason.

"But today they finally stepped up their game against a team that's probably one of the top four in the district."

Defending SHL champion Chestnut Ridge has already been beaten soundly by both F-M and McConnellsburg, and the Spartans also own a win over up-and-coming Southern Fulton.

McConnellsburg (4-0, 3-0 SHL) made a statement against the Tigers (2-1, 1-1 SHL), out-shooting them 24-7 and allowing only a handful of serious scoring chances.

Center back Nick Culler and his defensive mates did a solid job of staying with Fannett-Metal's runners and not letting them turn the ball back into the middle of the field.

"In our last practice, we knew we had to take out their key players (Mikell McGee and Layton Hoffman)," Culler said. "I think most of the time our guys had them locked down."

The best threat for the Tigers came in the 15th minute when Culler cleared a ball off the line after it got past keeper Hunter Souders.

F-M coach Greg Best said, "If we could have put that ball in early, it would have given us a big boost. Nick covers a lot of ground back there. We were beating the fullbacks, but then Nick was coming over and covering up."

"We knew they would try to beat us over the top," Houck said, "and my assistants, Chris Mellott and Jake Corral, worked with the defense and had them prepared."

The Spartans tallied the only goal of the first half on a set piece. Jake Boehme was fouled while trying to spin free about 22 yards out. His direct kick was hit hard and on the ground and it got past F-M's defensive wall and into the left corner before goalkeeper Jamie Birgfield could reach it.

Boehme said, "I saw that when they set up their wall, it wasn't over far enough to the left. There was about an eight-inch window there that I tried to hit it into."

Midway through the second half, Boehme sent a diagonal pass into the box that skipped past a defender and went to striker Patrick Keefer, who flipped the ball past an onrushing Birgfield, then knocked it into the goal. The final goal came late, with Boehme again passing into the middle. This time Ethan Barclay made a nice first touch to set himself up for a shot drilled into the far corner.

Best said, "We changed some people around to try to get the equalizer and they took advantage. We haven't seen that kind of pressure on our defense so far."

It was a quality win on the road for the Spartans, who are looking to do big things this year.

"The last three games, I don't our think possession was like it should be," Boehme said, "but we worked hard at it, and this was our best game of the season."

McConnellsburg 3

Fannett-Metal 0

McConnellsburg12—3Fannett-Metal00—0

First half — (M) Jake Boehme, direct kick, 30:53.

Second half — (M) Patrick Keefer, asst. Boehme, 60:35, (M) Ethan Barclay, asst. Boehme, 71:36.

Shots — McC 24, FM 7; Shots on goal — McC 11, FM 3; Corner kicks — McC 7, FM 3; Saves — McC 3 (Hunter Souders), FM 8 (Jamie Birgfield); Fouls — McC 7, FM 8; Offsides — McC 1.

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