WOODBURY — Housatonic goalkeeper Caleb Shpur preserved a 2-1 win over Nonnewaug with a penalty kick save at Nonnewaug High School Tuesday afternoon.
The game clock hung in the final three minutes when a Mountaineer hand ball in the penalty box caused a penalty kick faceoff that seemed destined to send the game into overtime.
“We lost last year in the first round on PKs,” said Shpur, a senior whose keeper instincts are honed at shortstop in the baseball season.
But PKs are different.
“It’s nerve-wracking; it just comes down to you. And everyone’s standing there watching,” Shpur said. “You can look at the foot angle or just guess.”
Shpur trapped the shot on his leg, then fell on it as the Housy onlookers rushed him with congratulations.
Both teams have come a long way since early losses to the BL teams ahead of them, Lewis Mills and Litchfield.
“We’ve been living on our defense this year,” said Housatonic coach Jim Terrall, whose team is now 9-3. “Jeff Palmer and a couple of others take the challenge personally. We’ve had trouble scoring, but Luke Mollica is getting the offense untracked lately. (Midfielder) Matt Lopes has carried us on his back.”
With second games against Mills and Litchfield still to come, the best tangible evidence of Mountaineer improvement before Tuesday came in the turnaround of a season-opening 3-1 loss to fifth-place Northwestern to a 1-0 win a month later.
Despite Tuesday’s loss, the Chiefs, 8-5, have an even sharper learning curve in turnarounds.
“We’ve gone from young to proving we’re a team that can compete with anyone,” coach Toby Denman said.
Nonnewaug lost to Litchfield in September, then gave the Cowboys their only loss earlier this month. Mills beat Nonnewaug 5-0 in their first meeting; the Chiefs played on the losing end of a 3-2 classic with the Spartans last Friday.
For both teams, Tuesday’s return match was another proving ground.
Nonnewaug struggled to a 1-0 win three weeks ago.
The memory still fresh on both sides, Tuesday’s first half was a slow-motion bullfight.
“It was a transition match for most of the game,” Denman said.
But after a scoreless first-half defensive struggle, senior captain Andrew Ray found an opening two minutes into the second on a pass into the box from Aiden Colby.
Fifteen minutes in, Molica threaded through the Nonnewaug defense to tie it, 1-1.
As the clock wore down, the pace moved up. With 13 minutes left, Chiefs goalkeeper Leo Scherf tried to beat Mollica to a ball in the Nonnewaug penalty box, knocking Mollica down in the effort.
Lopes pounded in the resulting penalty kick for Housy’s 2-1 lead.
Nonnewaug threatened in the Mountaineer penalty box with three minutes left. A Housy defender got a hand on the ball.
Shpur stood ready for his crucial moment.
HOUSATONIC 2, NONNEWAUG 1
HOUSATONIC 0 2—2
NONNEWAUG 0 1—1
Records: Housatonic 9-3; Nonnewaug 8-5. Goals: H—Luke Mollica; Matt Lopes (PK). N—Andrew Ray. Assist: N—Aiden Colby. Shots: N—10; H—8 Nonnewaug. Saves: H—Caleb Shpur 9. N —Leo Scherf 6.