Trailing by 1-0 and having been badly outplayed, O'Connell came to life late in the second half and salvaged a 1-1 tie with 16th-ranked Paul VI last night in a Metro Conference boys soccer game at Paul VI.
The Panthers (5-1-1) struck quickly. Sophomore forward John Saunders collected a pass from senior midfielder Karl Krietsch and scored past senior goalkeeper David Bucciero from 18 yards, just 2:50 into the game.
But the Panthers' good fortune was short-lived. Five minutes later Saunders, following a collision at midfield, left the game for good with a twisted right ankle.
Paul VI, which outshot O'Connell by 15-8, dominated the 19th-ranked Knights (3-0-3) with quick, sharp passes to the wings. The Panthers, with their short touch game, moved the ball at will in the first half and just missed scoring a number of times.
But Bucciero (11 saves) kept O'Connell in the game. And in the second half, as the Panthers became complacent, the Knights stepped up their attack and began to take control.
"We were rattled in the beginning," said O'Connell sophomore forward Gib LeBoeuf, who leads the Knights with five goals and three assists. "We needed to settle down to control the ball. Once we did that we started going to the short passes and looking for the open man."
"We were more emotionally up in the first half," said Krietsch. "I think our defense got tired in the second half."
With Paul VI on the defensive, LeBoeuf charged teammate David O'Neill's pass at 59:00 and, from 18 yards, sent it over the hands of goalkeeper Sean Malloney for the goal.
The Panthers, who finished 18-0-2 last season and won the Metro title in their first league campaign, had a 22-game winning streak, dating from last season, ended this week by DeMatha, 3-1.
For O'Connell, under first-year coach Alda Zito, it was the third tie. The Knights also tied No. 12 Ireton and Good Counsel.
"We had our opportunities to win but we didn't finish, against a very good goalkeeper," said Paul VI Coach John O'Conner. "We just didn't attack them intelligently."
Both teams appeared happy with the outcome. "A tie shouldn't hurt us at this point," said Krietsch. "It was a pretty well-played and evenly played game."
Said LeBoeuf: "They are the defending champions. So a tie is good enough for now, but we'll be looking for them at our place later this year."