NORWALK – It would be a cliché to say that Mike McArdle was feeling no pain after his second goal of the night proved to be the winner in Fairfield Ludlowe High School’s 2-1 victory over Darien in Wednesday’s Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference boys soccer championship game at Norwalk.
It would be incredible, however, to say that McArdle was not feeling any pain DURING the game, considering the hamstring injury that has plagued him all season. But that’s how it looked to anyone in attendance.
“He was one of our leading scorers last year but he had only two or three goals before tonight,” Ludlowe coach Kevin O’Hara said after his team defended its FCIAC title. “He was hobbled all year with a hamstring injury. His effort tonight was on pure will.”
Ludlowe appeared to be on its way to its second FCIAC crown in two years when McArdle scored his first goal in the 52nd minute to break a scoreless tie. Ludlowe’s Niklas Stahle appeared to score from 10 yards out but his kick rattled off one post, then the crossbar, then the other post. The rebound came out to McArdle, but his shot went off Darien goalie Liam Rischmann and then off the crossbar again.
Finally, McArdle regained control of the rebound and his header gave the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
“It just came back to me and I headed it in,” McArdle said.
“(McArdle) kept fighting for the ball,” O’Hara added. “But the key to that goal was that we just kept pounding the goal.”
McArdle’s first goal looked as if it might stand up, but Darien did not give in. The Blue Wave tied the game with just under nine minutes remaining when Pablo Martinez gained possession 10 yards to the left of Ludlowe goalie Fred Meagher and booted it into the far corner.
“We got back in it but we should’ve slowed things down after that,” Darien coach Jon Bradley said.
But four minutes later, McArdle just about matched his season’s output with his second goal of the night. He got open in front of the net and took a cross from Matheus Nascimento and knocked it past Rischmann for what proved to be the winner.
“I was open and raised my hand and hoped he’d see me,” McArdle said about Nascimento. “He put a perfect ball right there for me.”
“To be able to sprint to the goal like that with his injured hamstring is just amazing,” O’Hara added.
Darien (12-2-5), the second seed, was appearing in the FCIAC championship game for the first time in school history. But the newness of the experience was superseded by the familiarity of the opponent. It wasn’t just that it was the second meeting between the two teams but the earlier meeting was the only other time the Blue Wave lost this season.
Ludlowe (13-3-3), the No. 4 seed, defeated Darien, 3-0, back on Sept. 15 in the second game of the season. After that loss Darien went on a 16-game undefeated streak (11-0-5).
“Both games were completely different,” Bradley said. “This game was even. But McArdle was very wide open on the winning goal. Sometimes it only takes one mistake, and we were on the wrong end of it.”
Darien had the better of play early in the second half. The Blue Wave’s best chance came on a header from Martinez 15 minutes into the contest. Martinez had the lone goal in Darien’s 1-0 victory over sixth seed Greenwich on Monday.
Andrew Mathew also had a good opportunity later in the half for Darien on a direct kick from 20 yards out, but the boot went right into the gut of Meagher (4 saves).
Ludlowe was able to even things out with a few chances of its own by semifinal hero Niklas Stahle and Patrick Hogan. Stable had two goals in the Falcons’ 4-2 win over top seed Danbury on Monday. But Darien’s Rischmann (7 saves) managed to keep the game scoreless, until McArdle’s heroics.
NOTES: Ludlowe has now won five in a row after an up and down start to the season. Darien not only lost its 16 game unbeaten streak but saw its eight-game winning streak stopped. … Darien outshot Ludlowe 12-10.