LANSDALE – Just like that, it was over.
Holy Ghost Prep’s two-year run to Keystone State gold had ended in the Districts 1-Class AA semifinals, this year’s attempt at a PIAA three-peat extinguished by fourth-seeded Pottsgrove Tuesday night, Nov. 3 on the turf at Souderton High School.
Falcon junior backfielder Jared Krieger netted the winning goal on a set piece, blasting a clearing pass into the back of the net in the 20th minute off a corner kick by classmate Will Kaiser.
“That caught us by surprise and after that, I don’t think we regained our confidence and swagger that we usually have,” admitted Firebirds senior midfielder Colin O’Hara.
“We kind of lost our heads instead of relaxing and passing the ball around like we usually do.”
With his team leading 1-0 at the half, Pottsgrove junior forward Nate Yuchimiuk added an insurance goal when he beat both HGP goalkeeper Matt Lingerman and defender Ted Kawoczka to a ball for an empty-netter in the 61st minute.
Ironically, both players played key roles in Ghost’s past two runs in the PIAA championship.
While the Firebirds (12-7) outshot the Falcons in the first half, that wasn’t the case after the break. Infused with a spark, Pottsgrove (12-9) played like a team that was on its way to a big postseason win.
“They worked hard and kept coming at us the whole game,” explained O’Hara. “They didn’t let us get composed. They kept us second-guessing ourselves.
“They kept us thinking too fast. Instead of slowing down, they made us go faster and faster and we didn’t need to.”
“They worked hard; you have to give them credit but I don’t think we were at the top of our game,” added HGP head coach Kenny Lawson.
“In the second half, we settled into just trying to bang the ball long, which we didn’t want to do. But that happens when you’re down a goal and you’re trying to chase that lead.”
Holy Ghost had its chances to score; it just couldn’t capitalize. Five minutes into the game, junior Ryan French had the right side of the net open but missed when defender Nick Curnew forced him to shoot wide.
Only moments before the first Falcon goal, HGP senior Tom Roberts and sophomore Alex Finney lined up to the right of the opposing net for a corner kick. Finney booted the ball and while it was a nice kick, junior keeper Liam Abdalla handled the save sufficiently for Pottsgrove, which will battle in the District 1-AA championship against 3rd-seeded Bishop Shanahan, a 1-0 winner over No. 4 Lower Moreland in the other semifinal. The title tilt is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 5 at Council Rock North.
The Falcons lost 3-1 to the Firebirds in last year’s district title tilt. Try as they might, the ‘birds couldn’t put one into the back of the net in this one.
Ghost’s best chance to score in the first half came with 9-and-a-half minutes remaining, when HGP sophomore Connor Fife curled a ball around Abdalla that glanced off the left side post. With the carom coming off the inside of the pipe, Fife thought he had himself an equalizing strike but it was not to be.
With four minutes left until the half, Finney had a strike at a ball at the 10 yard line but blasted it over the net.
“We had a lot of opportunities in the box; we just couldn’t finish them,” admitted O’Hara. “We were missing our big presence up top so we tried to kick and run.
“We needed to settle ourselves down.”
When Pottsgrove struck first, the Falcons then forced the Firebirds off their game.
“They got in our heads,” admitted O’Hara. “We weren’t settled; we were just going out there and scaring ourselves out of the game.
After the break, it was Pottsgrove dictating the play on the field. When Yuchimiuk was brought down by a defender, the Falcons were awarded a free kick at the 15, though Kaiser failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
Ten minutes into the second half, Pottsgrove junior Jake Spotts blasted a shot right at Lingerman that was so hard, it took the senior keeper two tries to get a hold on the ball. Six minutes later, Spotts dribbled the ball inside the 11-yard marker and missed a wide-open net with the keeper out of position to make the save.
It wasn’t long after, that Yuchimiuk netted the goal that sealed the game in favor of the Falcons.
After opening its season with a 2-1 triumph over Suburban One League (SOL) rival Neshaminy in early September, Ghost wrapped up the season stretch with a five-game win streak over its Bicentennial Athletic League (BAL) rivals, a string that included a 1-0 win over New Hope-Solebury.
With French netting the game’s only goal off a feed from Finney, the win gained the Firebirds a share of this year’s BAL trophy and was sweet revenge for an early season loss suffered at the hands of the Lions.
“To come back and get co-champs in the league was impressive for us,” stated Lawson.
“That was huge, especially after we lost the first game, 3-0. It was good to come back and show some resiliency when other people thought we were done.”
But after registering 16 goals in their five-game streak, Ghost didn’t get any scoring in their last two. HGP was shut out in the last regular season game by New Jersey state power St. Benedict’s Prep (Newark).
For the senior class which includes starters Lingerman, Roberts, Kawoczka, O’Hara and backfielder Hayden Pratt, the 12th-graders leave a lasting effect on the Firebirds soccer program.
“It’s huge. It’s never been done before in the history of the school – to win two (state titles) in a row and they were a big part of it,” stated Lawson.
“It’s a legacy that will be hard to surpass by anybody else.
While Ghost didn’t finish the season with the same roster it started out with, losing three players including two up top, there’s good news on the horizon, says Lawson.
“Our future looks bright with the young talent we have,” the coach said.
“With what the seniors taught them – how to play like a Holy Ghost player – I’d say we’re in pretty good hands.”
UPDATE: Pottsgove captured the District 1-AA championship with a 2-1 triumph over Bishop Shanahan Nov. 5 at Council Rock North. The Falcons open states Nov. 10 with a PIAA opener against District 11 champ Northwestern Lehigh.
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Pottsgrove 2, Holy Ghost Prep 0
(Nov. 3 at Souderton)
POTTSGROVE 1 1 – 2
HOLY GHOST 0 0 – 0
FIRST-HALF GOAL: Jared Krieger (P), 20th minute
SECOND-HALF GOAL: Nate Yuchimiuk (P), 61st minute
SHOTS: Pottsgrove 12, HGP 11.
SAVES: Liam Abdalla (P) 10; Matt Lingerman (HGP) 10
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