As the final seconds of double overtime ticked off the clock at Homewood Field on Monday night, and a scoreless draw between McDonogh and Mount St. Joseph prepared to move to a penalty kick shootout to determine the 2009 MIAA A Conference soccer champion, a rhythmic chant began to ring out from the St. Joe student section in the Homewood Field bleachers.
DA-VID AR-NOLD, DA-VID AR-NOLD was the plea and, with a gutsy decision, St. Joe coach Mike St. Martin granted their wish.
In turn, Arnold delivered for his coach and teammates, stopping three of four McDonogh shots, while the Gaels converted three of their four strikes to stun the mighty Eagles and secure the A Conference crown.
Last Thursday at Calvert Hall, Arnold stepped into the nets for a shootout and delivered an improbable victory for the Gaels, who needed a goal with just 15-seconds left in regulation to reach overtime. St. Joe was forced to play that game with a junior varsity call-up in the nets, as starter Brad Benzing served a suspension and backup Nate Ramsland was stricken with the flu. That night, the decision to go to Arnold, the team’s best athlete, was easy.
Monday, with Benzing back and playing brilliantly, St. Martin hesitated, but only for a second.
“There was definitely a question,” St. Martin said of his choice of Arnold for the shootout. “My assistant coach and I were talking about it, but I said I think I’ve got to go with the hot hand. He’s amazing, so I went with him.”
Right off the bat, Arnold showed he was up to the task, as he dove to his right to slap away a low drive off the foot of Mamadou Kansaye. He followed with two more saves, while Earl Kidwell, Joey Isaja and Zach Modley each converted for the Gaels, lifting the team to its third MIAA A Conference crown.
“I just guessed right,” said a modest Arnold of his net-minding heroics. “There is pressure, but it’s fun for me. I just try to have fun and it works out.”
The first half was uneventful, as St. Joe (14-3-3) dug in on defense and McDonogh generated few scoring chances. In the second half, the Eagles applied outstanding pressure and created several quality opportunities.
With 23 minutes to play McDonogh’s Moses Makinde raced past the Gael defense and got a one-on-one opportunity with Benzing. Makinde launched a hard shot towards the right corner, but Benzing knocked it away with a decisive lunge. It was one of eight stops on the night for the St. Joe keeper.
Seven minutes later Jake Weiner cranked a blast from 30 yards out which got on the goal quickly, but Benzing tracked it well and blocked it easily in front.
With 22 seconds left in regulation Kansaye got another one-on-one shot for the Eagles, but again Benzing was right on the ball, blocking it away to send the contest to overtime. And finally, in the waning seconds of the second overtime, Benzing absorbed a hard blast from his right and then scrambled to cover a loose ball as it dangled just outside the goal line.
For McDonogh (21-3-0), it was a disappointing outcome in a season which saw the Eagles reach the No. 1 ranking in the nation, at one point. A 39-game winning streak against MIAA A Conference foes was ended by St. Joe in early October and two weeks later, the Eagles lost to Calvert Hall. Still, McDonogh bounced back to earn the top seed and appeared poised to win a third straight league crown.
For the Eagle seniors, they graduate with four consecutive trips to the title game and two championships.
“I give St. Joe credit. They found a way to win,” said McDonogh coach Steve Nichols. “Dave was sensational in the penalty kicks. The kid in the field goes in the goal and makes those kind of saves. I tip my cap to him.”
Mount St. Joseph 0, McDonogh 0, 2OT
MSJ wins on penalty kicks, 3-1
Saves: MSJ-Benzing 8; McD-Sanchez 2.
< Half: 0-0.
End of Reg. 0-0.
PK Goals: MSJ-Kidwell, Isaja, Modley; McD-Kansaye.