As the ball flew in the air, the final minute and a half ticking away, it seemed meant to be when it came down into a Westminster attackman's stick with a seemingly open net in front of him.
But then came Howard goalie Collin McClelland — almost out of nowhere — to stop the shot and thwart what seemed destined to be a second straight overtime meeting between the two teams in the 4A/3A North, section I final on May 11.
The shot would be the final attempt for the Owls as the visiting Lions kept possession the rest of the way and pulled out another one goal victory, 8-7, in the battle of unbeaten teams.
"It was just insane. Everyone was going crazy," McClelland said. "The kid shot it, I saved it, and Alex (Stephanos) got the ball, which was great, and cleared it. ... I made one save, but my defense was there for me all night."
"Huge, man. That was a great look, that was a great save," Lions coach Jimmy Creighton said. "Collin bailed us out tonight a bunch of times for sure. He had a great game."
Led by its regular crew of goal scorers, Howard got off to a fast start. Senior Eric Schroeder scored just over a minute into the game, then senior Cody Ford made it 2-0 a minute later.
Though Westminster got one back, senior Scott Bruner found the back of the net, then midfielder Brad Zulick sandwiched two goals between an Owls score to finish the first quarter up 5-2.
The pace favored the Lions in the opening stanza, but things turned in Westminster's favor as they slowed the game down. The two teams traded goals in the second quarter and Howard entered halftime with a 22-13 edge in shots and a 6-3 lead.
"A good start, definitely the way we wanted to get tonight started," Creighton said. "I think our offense was clicking, I felt like we were getting some pretty darn good looks."
But Westminster (15-1) came out firing in the third quarter. They launched 15 shots in the period and scored three straight to tie the game, 6-6, with 2:41 left in the quarter.
"They tie it up at six, and you're thinking, 'Oh man, here we go,'" Lions coach Jimmy Creighton said. "It kind of felt like we were shooting ourselves in the foot on offense, and they were making some solid plays on their offensive end."
Lions junior Malik Anderson, who was cleared the play last week after suffering a torn labrum in his shoulder during the football season, quieted the buzzing home crowd with a shot from 15-yards out that found the back of the net and stopped the Owl's momentum.
"Huge goal by a kid who's been out all year ... We actually weren't expecting him back," Creighton said. "He just let that thing fly. That's what he does."
Howard senior Scott Bruner tallied another one 45 seconds into the fourth quarter to build the lead to 8-6, but Westminster made it a one-goal game with 2:48 remaining when Andrew Raines scored.
The Lions (16-0) fought off a one-minute penalty with two minutes to go, and then stalled out the final 1:30 to take the win.
"We know Westminster is a good team, we had to come out fast," Zulick said. "It was a battle. Going up against this team – they're a great team. They have a lot of great players. ... To get this win is really nice. We knew it was going to be a close one and we just stuck it out until the end."
Howard will travel to face Sherwood in the 4A/3A North region final on Wednesday.
Howard 8, Westminster 7
Goals: Ho – Brad Zulick 3, Scott Bruner 2, Malki Anderson 1, Cody Ford 1, Eric Schroeder 1; W – Blake Ruby 2, Hunter Davis 1, Ian Eichensehr 1, Rett Jamison 1, Austin Harrington 1, Andrew Raines 1
Assists: Ho – Alex Stephanos 2, Bruner 1, Zulick 1; W – Ruby 1, Raines 1
Saves: Ho – Collin McClelland 7; W – Matt Nichols 12
Halftime: 6-3, Howard
Calling Mt. Hebron a resilient team may be an understatement.
After beating Marriotts Ridge in overtime on May 8, the Vikings needed two extra periods to take down Glenelg, 10-9, in the 3A/2A South region, section I final on May 11 thanks to a game-winner from senior Shane Brookhart. It's the second time this season Mt. Hebron (15-1) has defeated the Gladiators (11-5) in overtime.
"The kids on my team – they're unbelievable. We won three of the 24 face-offs. They had the ball the entire game and they played well," Vikings coach Mike McCarthy said. "My kids are so resilient. They don't quit. ... It is a remarkable feat for us to have been down 4-1 then 5-2 and not have possession of the ball and come back and beat a really good Glenelg team which played really well again against us. It was an awesome game."
The Gladiators had the ball the majority of the first overtime but couldn't get one by Mt. Hebron junior goalie Casey DuBois. Halfway through the second overtime, DuBois made another save and started a break to long-pole midfielder Will Hamman, who took the ball up field and found Brookhart.
"Shane just ripped one upper corner, and that was it," McCarthy said.
The Vikings defense has been the strength of the team all season long, and it was no different this time around. Anchored by DuBois in net, the long-poles kept them in the game despite being dominated in time of possession.
"Our defense was unbelievable. They locked down and held them to some bad shots, and Casey made the saves he was supposed to make, and some he wasn't supposed to make, and they missed the goal a few times," McCarthy said.
In the 3A/2A South, section II final, River Hill (10-4) held on to beat Atholton (8-8), 9-8, after carrying 8-3 lead into halftime.
The Hawks will host Mt. Hebron in the 3A/2A South region final on Wednesday.
3A/2A South, section I final
Mt. Hebron (15-1) 10, Glenelg (11-5) 9, 2OT
Goals: MH – Kyle Sutton 4, Shane Brookhart 3, Scott Mackrell 2, Anders Nilsson 1; G – Carson Marshall 6, Kevin Coppinger 2, Breyer Burford 1
Assists: MH – Nilsson 1, Jake Edmondson 1, Will Hamman 1, Casey Dubois 1, Bryce Brookhart 1; G – Brett Wasson 2, Ryan Dry 1
Saves: MH – Casey DuBois 19; G – Daniel Hopkins 7
Halftime: 6-6 tie
3A/2A South, section II final
River Hill (10-4) 9, Atholton (8-8) 8
Goals: RH – Jake Friedman 3, Danny Isaac 2, Zach Beard 1, Jimmy McEneany 1, Brendan McKenna 1, Dan Schulman 1; A – Talbott Gottwals 3, Jordan Maddox 2, Sam Smith 2, Jason Pazulski 1
Assists: RH – McEneany 2, Isaac 1, Schulman 1, Andrew Malone 1; A – Gottwals 1, Maddox 1