The towering 6-foot-4-inch central defender won nearly every header in the Saxons’ box.
Howard, though, was also the calm in the center of a swirling storm of Patriots forwards who, for good portions of the Virginia AAA Northern Region quarterfinal, threatened to break through Langley’s back line.
The composure of their captain kept the ninth-ranked Saxons organized, and Justin Galiani’s header with 19 minutes 39 seconds remaining provided the game-winning margin in the 1-0 contest to send Langley (14-3-1) back to the region semifinals for a second consecutive year.
“We just played with a lot of heart,” Howard said. “And I think that’s what saved us in the end.”
T.C. Williams (11-6-3) fed off of its crowd throughout much of the match, and with a combination of Alex Mansaray, Abdel Al Nimiry, Terell Williamson and Momodu Jalloh pushing forward, it appeared that the Patriots were due for a goal.
Yet, T.C. never got that final touch to break through the line, and shots from distance didn’t challenge Langley goalkeeper Josh Lupas.
Langley came to life a bit more in the second half as they played through midfield more and looked to provide some width. As Oliver De Thier started to find the ball more in higher spots in the midfield, the Saxons looked more threatening.
A counter attack nearly set up Galiani, but his shot missed the far post. It was a chance that stuck in his mind eight minutes later when De Thier’s long ball to the box found Galiani’s head.
This time, the senior buried the opportunity and Langley held on for the win.
“Soccer’s a weird game, just one chance and you can score,” Galiani said. “We stay focused the entire game knowing our chances would come. They had their chances, too, we counted on Josh to make those saves, and we knew one of our chances would go in and today it did.”
Robinson (11-3-2) had the better of play in the first half, and took a 1-0 lead when Sam Yardley’s left-footed free kick curled inside the post. But Mount Vernon (14-2-2) seized control in the second half through junior midfielder Simond Kargbo and junior forward Rahim Costa-Dorsey.
Costa-Dorsey evened the score in the 51st minute when Kargbo took possession, carried the ball and sprayed it wide to Amardo Oakley. The senior winger cut it back to Costa-Dorsey atop the box, and his skipping shot on the wet grass snuck under Robinson goalkeeper Josh Penn to make it 1-1.
The two teams traded heart-stopping moments through the rest of the half and four overtimes, including a bicycle kick from Ryan Harmouche that was cleared from an empty net by a Mount Vernon defender’s head, and a near miss for the Majors in the third overtime on a long throw-in.
Seven rounds of penalty kicks would be needed to settle the outcome, and Kyle Groth’s calm finish paired with Penn’s diving save sealed the win.
“It’s life and death, sudden death,” Penn said. “It’s basically all on me if I make that one save we go through. It’s very scary, to be honest. … Just have to learn how to cope with it and I did that today.”
The Bobcats trailed 2-0 at halftime, but stormed back to score six second-half goals and shocked the Indians, 6-4, to advance to the Northwest Region quarterfinals against No. 6 Colonial Forge.
Battlefield (6-11-2) got two goals each from Timur Salah and Alfonso Mendez and goals from Chad Mateer and Tyler Ostrovecky to pull off the upset. The Bobcats lost nine of their first 13 games but now sit just two wins from a berth in the state tournament.
“One of the craziest [second halves] I’ve ever been a part of,” Battlefield Coach Nate Nemerow, who is in his first year at the school, wrote in a text message. “We are pumped. Plan to keep surprising people.”
Second-ranked West Springfield (13-3-1) defeated No. 4 Oakton (11-4-1), 3-1, and Lake Braddock (9-8-1) defeated South Lakes (7-6-4) in penalty kicks in the other Northern Region quarterfinals. The Spartans and Bruins will meet for the third time this season in the region semifinal. West Springfield won the first game, 3-2, and Lake Braddock won in the district playoffs, 2-1.