St. Albans wins IAC soccer championship over Landon in penalty kicks

In a scoreless game with fewer than 12 minutes left, St. Albans forward Arjan Ganji missed a wide-open net by inches in Friday’s IAC championship game against Landon. He fell to his knees in disbelief, and so did his goalie, Luke Duffy, 100 yards away. Except Duffy went a step further. He fell onto his back for a moment, looking at the sky stunned, and when he got back onto his feet he yelled to himself, “That was it.”

But Duffy kept making one acrobatic save after another late to give his team new life, and St. Albans outlasted Landon in penalty kicks (4-1) to win the league title just before sundown Friday.

It is the first IAC championship for St. Albans (15-2-1) since 2001, and it came on a rugged field that, when coupled with Friday’s high winds, gave both squads fits on the offensive side of the ball. Both teams responded to the conditions with extremely physical play — which took a turn for the worse late in the first half when St. Albans’ Colin Bell banged heads with a Landon player after both went for a loose ball. The game was delayed for nearly 30 minutes, and after Bell was transported off the field by ambulance, both teams dug deep to find offensive rhythm.

“It came at an odd moment of the game,” said St. Albans Coach Hart Roper. “Emotionally it was so hard for our guys with a teammate on the ground, and it took a little while to refocus and play . . . Luke was tremendous. He had one of his best game of the year.”

The chances would come, especially for Landon (10-5-1). Duffy had his work cut out for him late in the scoreless game. He was involved in a collision near the top of the box after leaping to save a free kick with about seven minutes left, and he preserved the draw after punching away a corner kick that beamed near the cross bar with 30 seconds left in regulation.

After both teams clawed at each other further in a 10-minute overtime, St. Albans’ Nick Nataro got the Bulldogs on the board on the first penalty kick try. Duffy created the distance St. Albans needed moments later, diving left to stonewall a Landon player, and St. Albans converted on the next three kicks.

“I saw him look over, and look back twice. I was feeling it,” said Duffy of the stop. “I can’t even, like, comprehend how much this is. I still don’t realize that we’ve won yet.”

Roman Stubbs covers the University of Maryland athletics for The Washington Post.

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