At the culmination of regulation and two overtime periods late Friday night at Lessing Field in Fairfield, Conn., Borja Angoitia was approached by Quinnipiac head coach Eric Da Costa. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference semifinal game against Iona was headed to penalty kicks, and Quinnipiac’s goal keeper knew he would be expected to hold up his end in net.
What he didn’t know, however, is that Da Costa had something else in mind.
The ninth-year head coach informed Angoitia that he would be taking the first penalty kick for the Bobcats himself. Angoitia ran out and, to the surprise of everyone on hand, proceeded to blast a shot by Iona goalie Julian Petrello to begin the stanza.
“I love taking penalties,” Angoitia said. “I’ve been trying to convince coach [Da Costa] for the past three years to let me take them. I showed him in training I could do it, and he trusted me. There it was, top corner. Bang.”
Eight rounds later, Angoitia found himself making the biggest save of his career at Quinnipiac thus far, one that would propel the Bobcats into the MAAC Championship game in their inaugural season in the conference.
Iona’s Michael Hodgen lined up 12 yards away from Angoitia, danced as he advanced towards the ball in an effort to confuse the MAAC goalkeeper of the year, then lined a shot off Angoitia’s leg. With that, Quinnipiac was moving on.
“The run up basically told me he was going across,” Angoitia said. “It was one of those moments when you dive, and nothing goes through your mind but trying to make the save.”
Da Costa said after the game that he was so nervous he didn’t even get to see the save that propelled his team to Sunday’s championship bout with No. 1 seed Monmouth.
“I didn’t see the last penalty kick, but I will relive it on film and cherish this one tomorrow,” Da Costa said as he chuckled.
Brandon Strain-Goode got things started for the Bobcats. He scored with 21:53 left in the first half.
Strain-Goode broke the tie, as he found the ball amidst a scrum in front of the net and blasted it into the upper-right corner, giving Quinnipiac a 1-0 advantage. Ola Ogunjobi was given the assist, as he peppered the initial shot on goal that the senior was able to come up with.
“Some of the goals this year, they’ve been a little scrappy in the box,” Strain-Goode said. “Simon [Hinde] has scored a lot of those, and I took note of that. I just found the net as quickly as possible after I located the ball.”
The Bobcats players and coaches celebrated on the sideline in a frenzy of cheers and fist pumps, as the crowd of Quinnipiac fans who traveled 40 minutes up the highway to Fairfield’s campus for the game cheered loudly across the field.
Iona had a pair of chances with just over 11 minutes left in the first half, but two diving saves by Quinnipiac goalkeeper Borja Angoitia kept the lead intact.
For a majority of the game the Bobcats controlled the pace, ripping off 15 total shots to Iona’s 12.
With only 4:48 second left though, Iona came back to tie the game. Jordan Scarlett found the back of the net off of a header for the Gaels, tying the game and effectively keeping their season alive.
“When it comes down to the adversity we faced today, when we had the game in relative control then we give up the lead on a throw-in, it can kill a team,” Da Costa said. “However, we bend but we don’t break.”
The coach was right. In the first overtime, Quinnipiac escaped a near end to its season when Iona forward MJ Nestor laced the top of the crossbar with 8:14 left. The ball bounced out of the goal and was pushed down field by Quinnipiac.
Then, in the second overtime period, Angoitia charged out of his own goal with just 12 seconds left and punched a ball away to force penalty kicks. Iona had a 2-on-0 breakaway, but the Quinnipiac goalkeeper would not budge.
“Our team isn’t a team of individuals, we stick together,” Strain-Goode said. “We support each other. We always have each others’ back, just like Borja did there.”
Eight rounds of penalty kicks and one huge save later, Quinnipiac found itself moving on. Bobcats players stormed the field in celebration three-plus hours after the game had started, and the night was finally over.
“It’s the resiliency of this team,” Da Costa said. “Every player works for one another. It’s definitely a culmination of every day, and the training this team puts in.”
When asked of his junior goalkeepers performance, Da Costa couldn’t help but shake his head.
“He’s just a special individual, I don’t know how else to put it,” Da Costa said. “He truly is special. His emotions are always completely clear – he is passionate. He scores the first one to get us going, then makes the last save of the night. An epic performance.”
The first six players on each team nailed penalty kicks. Back and forth they went, as it seemed like neither keeper would stop the bleeding.
Then, after each team missed on its seventh attempt, the Da Costa called on junior Justin Ward. Ward hadn’t started the game, and had been called for three offsides penalties upon entering in the second half.
Regardless, he confidently nailed his opportunity, putting it into the right side of the net.
“To be honest, watching PK’s is worse after you take your own,” Strain-Goode said. “You’re just hoping, praying to whatever God you believe in. You’re living in that moment, every single shot.”
Quinnipiac now needs to turn its attention to Monmouth, whom it has not beaten in the past eight games.
“That game was one of the biggest fights all season by far. To survive through that, under pressure for the entire end of the game, I’m proud of that,” Angoitia said.
“Based on how things transpired today, it was one of the best games I have coached here,” Da Costa said. “Now, we have to get ready for Sunday.”