RICHMOND — One strong play in the air had Paul Laurence Dunbar floating on air Thursday night.
With five minutes left in the 14th Region title game, the sixth-ranked Bulldogs got a head on a ball and sent it in to give them a 1-0 win and their second straight championship.
It was senior Alan Von Nieda's head to be exact.
Von Nieda took a Dan Marnatti corner kick and pushed it into the back of the East Jessamine goal.
"I was really excited, pumped," he said of the score. "It felt so good. I knew we were going to get one eventually. We just had to keep pushing."
The coach of the No. 10 Jaguars had that feeling, too.
"We really struggled in the air and they're such a big, strong team in the air," Coach Tom Morgan said. "You could sort of see the writing on the wall. They finally got one in on us."
Von Nieda had almost the same shot collected six minutes into the second half. But this time he wouldn't be denied his fifth (and most important) goal of the season.
"I saw it go close to the goal and no one else was there, so I just attacked it," Von Nieda said.
After not getting a shot on frame in the first half, the Bulldogs went on the attack in the second, getting seven shots on goal (several from the air on set plays).
"We've got some guys who are pretty good in the air," Coach Todd Bretz said. "We thought if we could just get some pressure in there we might get a ball to bounce our way."
It was the Bulldogs' 14th straight victory, their last loss coming to this same East Jessamine team on Sept. 9.
Experience in big games last season helped the Bulldogs, senior goalkeeper Taylor Nossokoff said.
"We had 10 seniors on the field at the start of the game and at least eight of them played in the region championship last year, so experience was everything," said Nossokoff, who helped the Bulldogs earn their 12th shutout of the season.
Nossokoff, who took a cleat to the ankle late in the game, stayed in to handle the final barrage from the Jaguars after the Bulldogs' score.
"With five minutes to go I knew our defense could pack it back and protect the goal," he said. "With five minutes to go, I knew there'd be some pressure, but I thought we could handle it."
With the win, Dunbar earned the right to host the state sub-sectional, where it will play Danville, winner of the 15th Region.
Knowing they'd get another chance to play on their home field gave the Bulldogs (18-2-3) extra motivation, the players said.
"We wanted to play on our home field again," Von Nieda said. "We wanted to go back home for sure."
For East Jessamine (18-5-2) it was the end of the season, but Morgan is excited about a bevy of top players returning next year.
It was the Jaguars' first trip to the region tournament since 2000, but it seems unlikely the layoff will be that long again.
"It stings a little bit for them knowing they were right there," Morgan said. "Hopefully that will be enough fuel for them for next year, to help us keep improving as a program."
Paul Dunbar 1, East Jessamine 0
Goal—Alan Von Nieda.
Goalkeepers—EJ: Dale Davore; PLD: Taylor Nossokoff.
Records—East Jessamine 18-5-2, Paul Dunbar 18-2-3.