With less than four minutes left in regulation, staring at a second straight state finals loss, Paul Laurence Dunbar found a way to win Saturday.
The top-ranked Bulldogs rallied from a 1-0 deficit on their home field, then went on to edge No. 2 Trinity on penalty kicks for a 2-1 victory in the Boys' State Soccer Tournament.
"It was odd because we were in the same position (as last year) when we went down one-nil," said Nelson Ng, whose goal with 3:31 left in regulation forced extra time. "We didn't want to repeat last year, so we kept on trying, and then it just happened to go in."
Ng was one of many heroes on the Dunbar side.
Another was Nick Clark, who came off the bench to play goalkeeper in the best-of-five shootout.
Coach Todd Bretz explained that Clark and starter Josiah Farley have shared time throughout the season. But Clark stands about 6-foot-3 to Farley's 5-11.
"I have complete confidence in both of them," Bretz said. "Nick's a little bit bigger and he did better on the PKs."
With Trinity going first in the shootout, both teams scored in the first two rounds — Ryan Payne and Jacob Dickerson for the Shamrocks, Riley Calhoon and Alex Lewis for Dunbar.
Both teams missed the net in the third round, and both scored in the fourth. Greg Fischer tallied for Trinity, Jean-Samuel Poirier for Dunbar.
Then came Clark's big moment, when he stopped Jacob Gantt's fifth-round shot.
"I played all the way up to regionals, and then didn't play a game since," Clark said. "Then, ending my season like that, it couldn't be any better."
Moving to his left, Clark said he knew which way to go because he had watched film of Gantt taking penalty kicks.
Ricky Clemente then won it for Dunbar, shooting low to his right.
"I just had to put it in. It felt great," Clemente said. "I do always shoot there. I haven't ever shot to the left."
Dunbar capped a 26-1-2 season, including a 21-0-2 mark against in-state foes.
"It's indescribable," Clark said. "It's the greatest moment of my life right there. Biggest game. Greatest moment. Indescribable."
Bretz notched his 402nd career victory. That's the second-highest total in state history, behind only the 433 John Horton won at Covington Catholic.
Dunbar also won state titles in 1992, 2001 and 2005. The Bulldogs lost to St. Xavier in last year's finals.
Trinity (21-3-1) led 1-0 at halftime.
Sam Rickert got the goal with 18:22 left, taking a pass into the box from Sphiwe Zwane and chipping the ball past the keeper.
The Shamrocks dominated the opening minutes with several scoring threats.
Just two minutes in, Rickert put a header on target, stopped by goalkeeper Josiah Farley.
Later, Farley made another tough save but gave up a rebound. Teammate Jared Brown backed him up in the net to boot away a second-chance shot by Kobie Qualah.
Dunbar settled down to get some good looks of its own.
Included was a header by Nathan Jones that sailed just wide left midway through the half.
"They dominated us the first half," Bretz said. "They really came out and played great. We got back on our heels. Then we were able to play a little better the second half and started getting a little bit of momentum."
Twice Clemente put the ball in the net, but the goals were waived off.
The first, with 35:30 left, was set up by a pass that came from just over the end line.
Later, Clemente was caught offside to negate his goal.
Ng saved the day, though.
"Riley (Calhoon) had it and he turned, and I saw the gap so I tried to slide in," said Ng, who fired from just outside the 18. "He happened to see me, so when I got it, I just tried to put it past the keeper."
Clemente said the memory of last year's finals loss fueled his fire this time.
"The coaches always tell us 'we've been here, but can we go further?' It motivated us a lot," Clemente said. "(Friday) I watched the St. X vs. us last year; I watched that for a little bit of motivation."
Said Bretz: "It feels great. The guys have worked so hard and it looked like we were down there, and being able to come back against a great team like this in the last minute, it's pretty exciting."
paul Dunbar 2, Trinity 1 (SO)
Goals — D: Nelson Ng. T: Sam Rickert.
Goalkeepers — D: Josiah Farley and Nick Clark. T: Eric Goranflo.
Records: Paul Dunbar 26-1-2, Trinity 21-3-1.
Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Twitter: @MarkMaloneyHL. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com.