The Paul VI boys' soccer team celebrates its VISAA title after edging O'Connell in penalty kicks at VCU. (Photo by Jennette Leiva)

Paul VI goalkeeper Jack Franchi trusts his gut, so when the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association final ended scoreless and turned to penalty kicks, he dove with his instincts.

Franchi laid out and extended his right hand to reject a belt-high blast destined for the side netting on O’Connell’s first shot. Two kicks later, Danny Harder drilled the game-winner as the Panthers beat their Washington Catholic Athletic Conference rivals for the state title at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

“I don’t like to second guess, I keep things simple by trusting my first impression of where they’re going to shoot,” Franchi said Sunday. “I don’t overthink it, it’s all about feeling.”

Paul VI (10-5-4) entered the tournament as the No. 7 seed before upsetting No. 2 seed and defending champion St. Christopher’s from Richmond and No. 3 seed Episcopal on the way to the final against No. 1 seed O’Connell (11-5-5). Franchi also saved the Panthers in penalty kicks against Richmond’s Trinity Episcopal in the first round.

“It’s always better to finish the game earlier, it’s never good to get to penalties,” Franchi said. “But I’m not worried if it comes to that point, I’m comfortable in that situation.”

With a handful of freshmen and sophomores starting, Paul VI was expected to build for the future this fall. After finishing seventh in the WCAC, the Panthers clicked in their final competition and left with a trophy. Paul VI is now 2-0 in the VISAA championship game after also winning in 2010.

“We had some tough times this season, but we’re a tight group and we saved our best soccer for the end of the season,” Harder said. “The game could have gone either way, but it feels great to end the year with a win over our rival.