The second the ball crossed the goal line, Spiros Tsakos took off.
Sprinting to nowhere in particular but with his arms spread at their fullest wingspan he was eventually caught by the mob of his jubilant Thomas S. Wootton High School teammates that chased him across the turf field at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.
It was Tsakos' free kick in the 93rd minute of Monday's 4A West boys soccer region final — headed into the net by Danny O'Neil — that clinched a 1-0 victory by the Patriots against the Wildcats and the school's first regional title since 1990.
“In my whole career, I haven't beaten WJ,” Tsakos said. “I told myself we have to do it. You've got to end this game with your legs literally feeling like Jell-o.”
O'Neil's header changed the direction of the free kick from roughly 28 yards out just enough so that it snuck under diving Walter Johnson goalkeeper Ben Meyers and rolled into the net.
“It was just a little flick off the top of my head,” O'Neil said. “Right as [Tsakos] hit it, I made the run past the wall and got a little flick. I don't know if I brought it down, but [Meyers] wasn't able to get down in time. It went right under him.”
Walter Johnson — playing without coach Mike Williams who was suspended after he was shown a red card in the regional semifinal match against Northwest — threatened frequently despite Wootton having the better of possession. The Wildcats finished with five shots on goal to Wootton's three.
The first time the clubs met this season the Wildcats came away with a 1-0 victory on the strength of a second-half goal by sophomore Jeremy Ebobisse, which handed Wootton its only loss of the year. Patriots coach Doug Schuessler said that game provided valuable lessons in preparation for Monday's high-stakes match on a chilly November night.
“We felt like we understood the way they played. We felt like we understood being able to limit their ability to connect passes in their attack,” he said. “The second advantage we came away with was that we lost. We knew that we had to come in with a stronger performance than we did last time. I think that helped give us a mental edge that maybe they didn't have.”
The first half was controlled largely by Wootton. In the final five minutes, however, Walter Johnson nearly broke the scoreless tie when senior midfielder Juan Ortiz blasted a shot that Patriots goalkeeper Jeremy Yeager jumped and deflected over the net using both hands.
Yeager made four saves in the first half, compared to one by Meyers, but Wootton threatened with plenty of shots that weren't on target.
Walter Johnson again nearly took the lead in the 55th minute when Ortiz bent a shot from distance inches above the crossbar. The ball landed on the back side of the netting, leading the fans and announcer to believe the ball went in, which set off a massive celebration.
“It was definitely an evenly-matched game the whole way,” Wildcats assistant coach Blake Schwartzbach said. “Both teams created a whole lot of opportunities and we had a sudden death golden goal. In that situation, any opportunity can go through.”
4A West Regional Final
Thomas S. Wootton 1, Walter Johnson 0
Thomas S. Wootton (15-1-1) 0 0 1 — 1
Walter Johnson (14-2-0) 0 0 0 — 0
Thomas S. Wootton — Danny O'Neil (93')
Thomas S. Wootton — Spiros Tsakos (93')