BUCKTOWN >> There has always been a missing piece on the Pottsgrove boys soccer team’s resume.
It’s won district championships, even played in a PIAA championship game. Yet the Falcons had never played in their league final.
That changed Tuesday night in an edge-of-your-seat Pioneer Athletic Conference boys soccer semifinal when Pottsgrove had just enough to knock off host Owen J. Roberts, 2-1, to advance to the program’s first PAC final.
“It feels special that we made history. It’s definitely a good feeling,” said senior defender Jared Krieger.
“There’s been years where we weren’t the better team, but there’s been years we should have won this game,” Pottsgrove coach Jay Witkowski said. “This is the year we broke through and did it. There’s 12 seniors out there, a lot of leadership out there.”
The Frontier Division champion Falcons made second-half goals by Kevin Benitez and Germann Larmond hold up while finishing with 10 men after goalkeeper Liam Abdalla saw a red card with 5:38 to play. Owen J. Roberts pulled a goal back when Taurean Lee got a touch on a low corner kick with 6:18 to play.
Pottsgrove (14-4-1) will meet defending PAC champion Boyertown – a 2-1 winner over Liberty Division champion Spring-Ford in the other semifinal – in the championship game on Thursday night at Owen J. Roberts (7 p.m.).
Plenty of current Pottsgrove players saw their older brothers go through the program and experience the Final Four letdown. The current Falcons felt it themselves last year in a 3-0 semifinal defeat to Boyertown.
“Being exposed to the environment before and seeing my brothers, it got me ready for this. And being in it last year, it made me experience loss. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but we went in and did what we needed to do,” Krieger said.
“I think it made our team want it more and made us more eager for it,” senior midfielder Will Kaiser said of the past Final Four misses. “All the guys are excited to get to the game on Thursday.”
OJR (10-6-3), which was denied a returned trip to the title game, was plagued by scoring woes that have hit it at different times this season.
“It reared its ugly head. You see the chances we get and we just can’t find the net,” OJR coach Eric Wentzel said. “This game was a microcosm of our season. Sometimes this team shows up and sometimes it doesn’t and tonight we didn’t. I’m not going to take anything away from Pottsgrove – they outplayed us, outcoached us, out-everything.”
Abdalla was superb in goal throughout, including two dynamic saves – an incredible tip save over the bar from a Nolan Smith looping header and a charging, point-blank save on Lee – to keep it scoreless. Nevertheless, he’ll miss the final due to his red card after seeing back-to-back yellow cards following an altercation with OJR’s Austin Koury.
He was well protected by Krieger, Nik Curnew, Nick Makoid and Pat O’Brien, while getting support in the midfield from Kaiser and Tyler Rolando.
After a scoreless first half, Pottsgrove finally got the breakthrough when Nate Yuchimiuk broke free down the right side and played a cross to substitute Benitez, who was playing on the left wing despite being deployed as a full back on many occasions, for an easy finish.
“That’s the last person I expected to come up big and score a goal,” Krieger said.
Larmond split the OJR defense to give Pottsgrove what looked like a decisive lead with seven minutes to play before the crazy finish with Lee’s goal and the red card. Yet finally, the Falcons would see a semifinal out.
“It’s something new,” Kaiser said in reference to Benitez lighting up the scoreboard. “People aren’t expecting it but hey, he stepped up and he did it. I’m not complaining.”
The same could be said for the entire Pottsgrove team. ‘Something new’ – a trip to the PAC championship game – will be welcomed by every player past and present of the Pottsgrove boys soccer program.