FRANCONIA >> It’s been a dominant power in Pennsylvania’s Class AA ranks, a perennial district champion and state-level qualifier.
But the Holy Ghost Prep boys soccer team won’t be adding any more luster to its storied legacy this fall. Pottsgrove made sure of that Tuesday, a 2-0 victory at Souderton High School ending the Firebirds’ postseason run while enhancing its own in District One.
Playing what head coach Jay Witkowski termed “spectacular” defense, the Falcons made goals in each half of the 1-AA semifinal a virtually insurmountable lead. Shutting out the top-seeded ‘Birds puts fourth-seeded Pottsgrove (12-9 overall) into Thursday’s title game against Bishop Shanahan, which won the first game of the 1-AA doubleheader at Souderton.
It could also be the finale of this longtime rivalry. With Pottsgrove looking at the possibility of moving up with the PIAA’s impending expansion of its classification system, Pottsgrove/HGP postseason clashes could become a thing of the past.
“They beat us in 2012 and 2014,” Witkowski said of the programs’ head-to-head encounters, “and we beat them in 2008 and 2009. We told the kids, if this might be the end, we want to win it.”
The Falcons did everything they could to insure a happy result against a Firebird squad looking to defend its 2014 state-championship finish. It protected the two-goal lead —forged by tallies from Jared Krieger and Nathan Yuchimiuk in the first and second halves, respectively —by playing strong in front of goalkeeper Liam Abdalla, who stopped four shots in the first half and a number of others in the closing minutes of the second half.
“We came out with a lot of confidence,” Abdalla said. “Halfway through it, when we picked up the second goal, I knew we could do it.”
Pottsgrove got the eventual game-winning goal at the 20:24 mark of the first half, Krieger converting off a corner kick. That tenuous lead, against a Ghost outfit that pressed the action at Pottsgrove’s end of the field for much of the first half, was expanded with Yuchimiuk beating two Firebirds on a fast break and putting a shot past HGP keeper Matthew Lingerman at the 19:01 mark of the second.
“I was ecstatic, seeing it go in,” Yuchimiuk said. “We got the ball out back, I opened with a run, and when I saw it go over the defender’s head, I ran hard.”
It was the third try Pottsgrove made in the second half to break open the game. A 15-yard try by Will Kaiser, with 33:41 showing on the clock in the second half, went wide right of the Prep cage; and another try at the 24:06 mark went to the left.
Holy Ghost fared no better, seeing several tries in the final 13 minutes miss the mark. A kick at the 13:13 mark, coming from the corner, bounced off the frame, and another at 6:52 got cleared by the Falcon defense.
One last attempt inside the game’s final minute was cleared by Abdalla, who appeared to be falling backwards and blocking the shot with his face.
“It was off my thigh,” Abdalla said with a laugh. “I put my whole body in front of the ball.”
“The defense was spectacular,” Witkowski said. “We were winning every ball.”
Witkowski substituted freely during the game. He rotated midfielders Michael Sereny and Ben Hnat, and forwards Dylan Marchese and Claudio Paez, into the on-field mix with starters Noah Lear, Justin Toth, Kaiser, Jacob Spotts and Yuchimiuk.
“We wanted to keep guys fresh,” he said. “We asked the guys up top to run like crazy.”
It had the desired effect.
Pottsgrove avenged a 3-1 loss to the Firebirds in 2014’s district final, at the same time leaving Ghost’s players noticeably frustrated…frustration that reached a head in the game’s final minutes, with one incident defused before it escalated.
“We knew coming in how they beat us last year,” Abdalla said. “We wanted to show we can definitely compete with anybody.”
The AA championship game will pit two schools with their own history.
Pottsgrove played Shanahan during the regular season, winning by a 2-1 count. But Witkowski was quick to point out his team won’t be banking that result into a similar one this time around.’
“We told the kids to enjoy tonight, because this is the district playoffs,” he said. “It’s a different animal,”
“When we played Shanahan in the regular season, we came out with a lot of intensity,” Abdalla added. “We want to be able to match that intensity double this time.”
NOTES >> Holy Ghost’s Ryan Danestorg was given a yellow card at the 9:34 mark in the first half. … Pottsgrove’s press of the action in the second half was marked by two shots at the Prep goal around the 9:34 mark, which Lingerman cleared.
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