Sophomore defender Jack Maher’s eyes wandered as he stalked the dormant soccer ball that lay on the penalty kick marker. His gaze shifted from the ball to the face of Maryland freshman goalkeeper Niklas Neumann and back to the ball. He knew what he wanted to do.
In this moment, as Maher lined up three paces behind the ball and two steps to his left, nothing else mattered. Not the 12 unsuccessful corner kick tries up to that point, not the 22 total shots rattled off and certainly not the career-high eight saves that Neumann swatted away.
The game’s 102 scoreless minutes had gone by, with a trip to the Big Ten Tournament title game on the line. IU, who failed time and time again to put away Maryland, needed just one more chance, a miracle, anything.
After countless wasted opportunities Friday night in College Park, Maryland, the Hoosiers’ wish was granted. The catalyst for that? IU freshman forward Josh Penn.
In the 103rd minute, Penn received a pass near midfield and began his ascent toward the Terrapins’ net. His first touch brought the ball to his left foot as he scanned the defenders in front. A few more strides forward, and Penn found himself exactly at his sweet spot: the top of goal box with just enough space between himself and Maryland’s back line.
The Hoosiers’ leading goal scorer had been in this position countless times throughout the season, but none with bigger implications than the present. Without giving it much thought, Penn rifled the ball toward the net with his right leg.
For a split second, the ball looked to be on a collision course with Maryland’s Nuemann, but in a moment of sheer luck for IU, a Maryland player’s flailing hand spelled doom for the Terrapins. Before the ball could navigate its way through the cluster of defenders, the flailing arm clipped the ball and prompted a whistle.
Field referee Sorin Stoica called a hand ball foul on Maryland and awarded IU a potential game-sealing penalty kick at the 102:43 mark. It was the big break that the Hoosiers needed and the worst possible scenario for a Terrapins squad that had done everything in its power to keep the game equal.
IU head coach Todd Yeagley pondered his options. He had called upon freshman forward Victor Bezerra multiple times throughout the season, but in the season’s biggest moment, there was only one player Yeagley wanted taking to this shot.
The Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year stood all by himself under the bright lights of Maryland’s Ludwig Field in front of 1,660 fans. Maher took a deep breath, glanced into Neumann’s eyes one final time and made his move toward the dormant ball.
Neumann dove to his right. Maher’s shot was headed for the same spot. But unlike the previous eight shots turned away by Neumann, Maher would not be denied.
His shot was tucked into the bottom left corner and buried just past the outstretched arms of Neumann.
On a night when seemingly nothing was going right for the Hoosiers, all it took was one final blow from the one player no opposing team wanted to face.
IU had avenged its only Big Ten regular season loss to Maryland, and more importantly, it put the Hoosiers in position to challenge for a second-straight Big Ten Title.
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