BUCKTOWN >> Finishing games has sometimes been a struggle for Owen J. Roberts this season. Wednesday night at Henry J. Bernat Field, the Wildcats never let Boyertown get started.
The Wildcats continued to have their PAC-10 Liberty Division rival’s number, winning by the same 1-0 score as in early September.
Boyertown and OJR each had only two conference losses last year. They battled in the PAC-10 final, Boyertown winning. This time around, both are packing experience and are poised to make a run again while staying on first-place Spring-Ford’s heels. Right now OJR is a tad closer to the Rams with a 5-1-1 league mark (8-3-3 overall). The Bears fell to 4-4, 7-4-3.
“This was a breakthrough game for us,” OJR senior defender Jason Long said. “We’ve struggled, and closing out games has been a problem.”
“We played hard, everybody contributed, and we played 80 hard minutes,” OJR senior defender Austin Koury added.
Most of the early action took place in the middle third, with neither team able to muster any legitimate scoring chances over the first 27 minutes. Then the pace picked up around the Boyertown net.
Bears goalkeeper Connor McKeown got a right hand on a close-by shot to make an impressive save by the left post. Then in the 30th minute, OJR got a penalty kick and junior Graham Pugh delivered, putting it past McKeown on the left side for a 1-0 lead.
The score stuck for the final 50 minutes largely because the Wildcats contained the Bears’ dangerous playmakers, severely limiting their operating space. OJR allowed only 3 shots on goal the entire night.
“We know they’re very athletic, especially at the top, so we limited the times they could turn and attack,” Koury said. “We also limited their re-starts and corner kicks.”
“We played physical and didn’t let them turn,” Long said.
OJR’s midfield and defense basically shut down Boyertown in the first half. The Bears had scant possession time deep and attempted no shots until a direct kick, which sailed high, in the 35th minute.
Changing ends didn’t change Boyertown’s offensive fortunes. Early in the second half Boyertown let an opportunity slip. OJR mishandled a clear and the ball ricocheted near the box, to no avail. Then in the 46th minute, the Bears had a 3-on-1 go awry before they could get within striking distance.
OJR saw its transition opportunity foiled by Boyertown’s back end after Pugh lifted a nice long ball. In the 53rd minute came Boyertown’s best chance to net the equalizer. Alex Kidwell ran down a ball and, on a challenging angle right of the post, tried to squeeze a shot toward the left post, but OJR goalkeeper Cory Wright McKeown hustled up to hit the ground and stop it.
OJR defenders Doug Sbei and Matt Pron each made excellent plays in the 67-70-minute range to thwart Boyertown threats late and consume the clock. Each swiped the ball in the back end and went on long runs deep in the Boyertown zone.
“This was big,” Koury said. “We feel underestimated some. We think we’re a lot better than our record shows. We’ve lost some close games.”
This one didn’t feel all that close, even at 1-0, as OJR’s defense took control and the Wildcats got better control of their destiny.
“I think we’re going to be a force in the playoffs,” Koury said.