A determined group of seniors at Calvert Hall made a pledge before the season to make sure this would be the Cardinals' year in the demanding Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference.
Fittingly, when the time came to end the program's 13-year drought without a championship, team captains Brady O'Connor and Ben Alexander proved up for the challenge.
Down a goal against No. 1 Archbishop Curley in Sunday's championship game, with the time draining, the two standouts pieced together four brilliant minutes of soccer that will long be remembered at Calvert Hall.
Alexander headed home the tying goal from a long cross sent in by O'Connor with 13:46 to play. With 9:41 to play, O'Connor headed home a long throw by James Rosa for the lead. The No. 3 Cardinals defended two corner kicks and a couple of Curley chances in the final moments before a thrilling 3-2 victory was secure at Anne Arundel Community College.
Calvert Hall (16-4-2) wins its fifth MIAA A championship since the league was formed and first since 2003. Counting the Maryland Scholastic Association and before that, the program has won 32 league titles with its first coming in 1928. Archbishop Curley, which came into the final on a 10-game winning streak to earn the top seed, ends with a 19-4-2 mark.
It turned out the season ended up being all about Calvert Hall and its fine senior class. O'Connor returned to the team after playing U.S. Development Academy ball in his junior year. Alexander, Chris Carroll, who scored the game's first goal in the first half, and fellow senior defender Seth Walker won a Youth Soccer National Championship over the summer playing for Pipeline SC club team. Alexander and Carroll both considered playing academy ball, but ended up returning to the Cardinals with Sunday night's quest in mind.
"We all could have played in the academy, but we came back because it's been 13 years since Calvert Hall has won a championship and we knew this would be our year," O'Connor said. "It's great, you just can't describe it."
Curley took a 2-1 lead with 31:10 to play when senior midfielder Alejandro Arbelaez hit a heavy shot from 40 yards when he recognized Calvert Hall goalie Kyle Cooper was scrambling to get back in net.
The Friars appeared to take hold of the game – pressing for more soon after. But one shot was cleared away from the line by a Calvert Hall defender and the rebound try was banged off the crossbar to keep the Cardinals within one.
Then, O'Connor and Alexander stepped up. With the ball on the left side just across midfield, O'Connor sent a perfect ball to Alexander at the far post for the tying header. O'Connor then provided the game-winner with a header of his own in close.
"Once we scored that second goal I knew the third was coming," O'Connor said. "We battled back and all of our guys we fought to the end and we didn't give up."
Said Calvert Hall coach Rich Zinkand: "I can't say enough about all our seniors but Ben Alexander getting that equalizer from Brady and then Brady getting the game winner – I don't think you could write a better ending for us this season with those two."
Following the game, Curley coach Barry Stitz told his players they laid it all on the line and that's why it hurt so much. Over time, the Friars will appreciate their fine season. The league had a particularly deep and talented field and they separated themselves from the rest with the impressive string going into Sunday's championship. They fell one goal short for the second straight season.
"This is one of the best Curley teams I've coached in my 17 years and on and off the field, they did things the right way," Stitz said. "It's going to sting for awhile, but I'm proud of them.
"Up 2-1, we had a couple of really good chances to get that third one. I thought if we would have gotten it, we would have closed the game out, but we didn't. Hats off to [Calvert Hall] -- they made a couple nice plays when they had to and they fought."
After Carroll's goal with 14:24 left in the first half, Dylan Poetzel tied the game for Curley with a header off a cross sent in by Tyler Sosnowski with 2:14 to play before the halftime break.
MIAA A championship
(at Anne Arundel Community College)
3 Calvert Hall 3, 1 Archbishop Curley 2
Goals: CH – Carroll, Alexander, O'Connor; AC – Poetzel, Arbelaez
Assists: CH – O'Connor, Rosa; AC -- Sosnowski
Saves: CH – Cooper 4; AC – Gentry 2, Wdziechowski 2