ABINGTON – Fifty-five players – 27 for visiting Pennsbury and 28 for the home team Abington – gathered Wednesday night (Oct. 5) at Schwarzman Stadium and a soccer game of sorts broke out on the gridiron painted on the field for the football Galloping Ghosts.
“I don’t know why they keep wanting to put high school soccer games on undersized football fields,” lamented Falcon head coach Tom Stoddart. “It was like playing in a hockey rink.
“And the grass was long so you can’t play the ball to feet. That’s going to make you put the ball in the air and that’s going to turn into a lot of scrambles.
“To their credit, they outworked us on all those 50-50 balls in the first half. I thought we did better in the second half, made it more competitive.”
Two-and-half hours, seven goals and three yellow cards later, Abington (9-3, 5-3: SONL) had pasted a 4-3 loss on Pennsbury, its first of the season. Ghost fans – still reeling from a handball called in the box on one of their players that led to a Falcon goal in the 53rd minute – topped their evening off with chants of “overrated,” referring to previously unbeaten Pennsbury.
On the field, there was some shouting between the coaches on both sides. When the dust settled, an Abington player – injured during the Falcons’ last, desperate attempt at gaining an equalizing goal – lay prone in front of the Ghosts net.
“Pennsbury never gives up – they have very good players and they have an excellent coach that organizes them extremely well,” said Abington head coach Randy Garber.
“But our kids are just as tough – they’re not going to let down either.
“I thought it was a good game. Things just got a little bit out of control because of the emotions and because of how much the game meant to Pennsbury and how much it meant to us.”
Ghosts sophomore midfielder Sean Touey registered the first hat trick of his career, his second goal coming in the waning moments of the first half, helping Abington out to a 3-1 lead at the intermission. Touey netted his third goal in the game in the 70th minute, giving the Ghosts what looked to be a commanding lead.
Turns out, Abington needed every single one of those strikes from Touey. That’s because, with 1:31 to go in the second half, Pennsbury junior Obi Onuoha made this a one-goal battle for the fourth time in the contest when he took a feed from freshman Joe Ficarotta and booted it into the far left hand corner of the Ghosts’ net.
“I knew that we were never out of the game; anything can happen on this field,” said Lobasso. “We’ve been an attacking team all season and we scored goals today when we needed them.”
For the next 91 seconds, the Falcons (12-1, 7-1) launched an all-out, no-holds barred assault on the home team’s net, even pushing goalkeeper Nate Slotnick up to a forward position in their attempt at deadlocking the score before time expired.
Abington finally popped the ball past all of Pennsbury’s forwards – even the extra one – and would have had a fifth goal, had not time expired.
“They are a very good team – they were undefeated, they’re number one in the district – but I think we have as good a side as anyone in the league,” said Garber.
“It was a hard-fought game on both sides but it’s hard for any team to go undefeated in this league.”
Ninety seconds into the contest, Lobasso latched onto a poor clearing attempt by Abington then launched a shot that – if not for a diving stab by Abington GK Nick Brownholtz – would have handed the visitors a quick 1-0 lead.
Two minutes later, Lobasso made good on another turnover by the Ghosts, grabbing the takeaway then blasting it off the fingertips of Brownholtz.
After that, however, it was Pennsbury committing the turnovers. In the 23rd minute, four Ghosts converged on the Falcon goal after a failed clearing attempt on the other side of the field. The result was a shot by senior Micah Portis that ricocheted off the post to Touey, who had nothing but the entire left side of the net with which to shoot.
Three minutes later, freshman Donald Gibbs – the player hurt at the end of the game – took another Pennsbury turnover, drew Slotnick to the left of the goal then shot right for a 2-1 Abington lead, one the Ghosts would not relinquish.
With time winding down in the first half, the Falcons might have stood a chance at mitigating the damage done before the intermission – if they could just get to the break with a one-goal deficit.
Touey had other ideas, however. The sophomore took another turnover and scored, putting his team on top 3-1 with just 51 seconds remaining in the first half.
While Abington had the first scoring chance after the break, nearly putting the ball into the back of the net on a header two minutes in, it was Pennsbury who came up with the goal.
Again, it was Lobasso, this time on a penalty kick. And it was packed with plenty of drama.
The hometown fans were initially annoyed when the Falcons were awarded a free kick from the 25, the ruling coming on a takedown of Lobasso by Ghost junior fullback Andrew West. That feeling would turn to anger a few moments later.
That’s when the free kick by Pennsbury sophomore Javier Sosa caromed off the hand of an Abington defender. The Falcon players saw it and immediately yelled out, “handball.” Not all of the three officials monitoring the game did, however, and play was initially allowed to continue.
Finally, a whistle blew and the umpires gathered for a discussion. The call agreed upon was indeed a handball, awarding Pennsbury a PK. Lobasso took the shot from the 11 and made no mistake when he drew the Falcons within a goal at 3-2.
From then on, Pennsbury put plenty of pressure on the Ghosts’ net but got caught with too many men up when Abington launched a forward pass over the top. Of course, it was Touey on the other end of the pass and the sophomore had only the keeper to beat for his hat trick.
Slotnick committed to the ball and at first appeared to have it. But the ball popped loose and again, Touey was left staring at a wide open net.
“He frustrates you defensively and as a coach but at some point, you have to admit he’s just that talented,” said Stoddart, of the Ghosts’ leading scorer.
“You do what you have to do to shut him down but he’s going to get looks.
“You just hope at the end of the day, you can deny some of those looks and come up with some big saves.
“Today, it just didn’t happen; the other day, we were able to do it.”
The coach was speaking of his team’s 2-1 triumph in overtime over Abington just four days earlier on the Falcons’ home field. As fate would have it, the two sides would see one another their next time out on the pitch.
“We knew that in (four) days, we were going to play them at our place, which is a completely different atmosphere,” said Garber.
For the Ghosts, the win keeps them hot on the trail of Pennsbury, in third place at 6-3 in the Suburban One National League. For the Falcons, it locks them in a dead heat with Council Rock North, tied for first at 7-1.
NOTES: Touey has 13 goals on the season. He scored twice in four previous games for the Ghosts. Yellow cards were issued to Lobasso and Sosa, for Pennsbury, along with Abington sophomore Jack Failing, for the hosts. The Falcon JV team topped the Ghosts 2-0 on goals by sophomore Prinav Chivukula (10th minute) and junior Alex Johnson, who scored with six ticks left on the clock. Abington took Saturday’s JV game, 1-0.
Abington 4, Pennsbury 3
(Oct. 5 at Schwarzman Stadium)
FIRST-HALF GOALS: P — Zach Lobasso, unassisted, 4th minute; A — Sean Touey, from Micah Portis, 23rd minute, Donald Gibbs, 26th minute, Touey, unassisted, 40th minute.
SECOND-HALF GOALS: P — Lobasso, PK, 53rd minute, Obi Onuoha, from Joe Ficarotta, 79th minute; A — Touey, unassisted, 70th minute.