RADFORD, Va. — With one quick swat, a match that was even on the scoreboard became uneven in all the ways that matter as George Mason won its seventh Virginia state championship in boys’ soccer with a 4-1 decision over Riverheads.
After a scoreless first half in which George Mason had more chances but was unable to finish with goals, senior Paul Darmstadter got in position to change the Mustangs’ luck. His header was ticketed for the top left corner of the goal, but a Riverheads player knocked the ball away with his hand.
The problem: The player was not the Gladiators’ goalkeeper.
The intentional handball gave George Mason (22-1) a penalty kick and resulted in an automatic ejection.
Darmstadter took the penalty and beat the Riverheads goalkeeper high and right to add a one-goal advantage to its one-man advantage with 33 minutes to play at Radford University.
“The keeper was standing a little more to my right, so I figure when a guy is more to one side, he wants me to go the other way, so I just went to the right,” Darmstadter said.
A minute later, Darmstadter scored again, this time the old-fashioned way, booting the ball inside the left post from 15 yards. Coach Frank Spinello said the Mustangs have counted on the senior midfielder for leadership all season.
“There was a point in that second half where Paul Darmstadter just said, ‘Jump on my back. I’m taking over, guys,’ ” Spinello said. “Last year he was a behemoth for us defensively, and this year he’s been a juggernaut offensively, done wonderful things for us.”
One day after his team erupted for 11 goals in a semifinal rout of James River, Darmstadter said the players were frustrated with the lack of scoring. The only quality chance in the first half was a goal that was wiped out by an offsides call.
“We hadn’t got much on goal in the first half but long shots, and a lot of guys were getting frustrated, so I told them if you don’t know what to do, just find me and I’ll distribute it or hold it and find the gaps,” Darmstadter said.
In the 57th minute, Raheem Lawal broke through the Gladiators’ defense at the left post, then drilled the ball past the goalkeeper for a 3-0 lead.
“At that point, I think we relaxed a little. I think we thought, ‘Game over,’ ” Spinello said.
Riverheads (21-3) scored its lone goal in the 61st minute on a header by James Kasak, taking a cross from Elijah Knopp.
George Mason allowed no more scoring chances by maintaining offensive pressure and controlling possession.
“The best form of defense is to keep the ball in their half,” Darmstadter said. “We decided to keep playing George Mason football and pressure them, force mistakes. We knew they had to commit a lot of guys forward so there would be much more room in their half, so we could keep possession of it as far away from our goal as possible.”
The Mustangs got a late goal from Elliot Mercado, who headed in a corner kick that dropped right in front of the goal to seal George Mason’s second consecutive championship and first in the Virginia High School League’s new 2A classification.