UPPER MARLBORO — For 78 minutes of Saturday night’s Metro Independent Schools Athletic League boys soccer championship game, Grace Christian Academy and Takoma Academy each had numerous scoring opportunities but just couldn’t find the net as things remained scoreless.
Grace finally caught a break as senior striker Zach Wittlinger saw an opportunity and delivered the eventual game-winning goal in the final two minutes of regulation to lift the Knights to a 1-0 victory over the Tigers of Montgomery County to claim the league title at Riverdale Baptist School.
Leading up to the goal a ball was kicked up the field by Justin Van Wie, but it was misplayed by a Takoma defender.
Wittlinger, who was marked by several Takoma defenders, immediately saw the ball that was misplayed, rolled to his right with the ball and drilled a shot with his left foot in the upper left corner of the net past Takoma senior goalkeeper Andrew Deabreu.
It was in fact the biggest goal of Wittlinger’s career.
“In the last five minutes, the game was hectic and in practice we do drop shots and I knew that if the ball was framed, I could get it past the goalie,” said Wittlinger. “I didn’t care where I was getting it, I was going to shoot it no matter what. In the preseason, we were talking about this game and we wanted to get back here and we weren’t going to lose this game again. Everyone gave it their all for 80 minutes and we came out victorious.”
Grace (17-3 overall), also the MISAL regular season champions, avenged last year’s 3-2 double overtime loss in the MISAL final to Takoma and this season the tides turned.
“We were pushing the whole time and looking for a break for Zach and also for the other strikers,” said Grace head coach Dan Perotta. “[Takoma] [head] Coach [Bryan] Brown drew up a very good defensive strategy tonight. The goalie was in good position, Zach just placed the ball well. Our main goal was to win the championship and we did that. We were able to get a little redemption and finish the MISAL season on top.”
Takoma junior striker Henderson Rodriguez had several breakaways throughout the game, beating the Grace defense several times but his shot attempts went wide.
Brown said his Tigers played tough, but weren’t able to capitalize on their opportunities.
“My boys played their hearts out and I felt like I let them down,” he said. “But trust and believe we will get back to this point next year and redeem ourselves. Grace is a great team and Zach is an awesome player and he had a big finish at the end.”
Grace goalkeeper Noah Jones finished with 21 saves in the shutout, while Deabreu finished with 15 saves on the night.
The Knights, the No. 2 seed, defeated No. 15 New Life Christian School of Frederick County 7-0 in the first round of the Maryland Christian Schools Tournament on Monday and was scheduled to host seventh-seed Salisbury Christian on Tuesday. A win put the team into the semifinals on Thursday with the championship game scheduled for Saturday.