WARRINGTON >> The path to the Suburban One League Continental Conference is there for the North Penn boys soccer team. The Knights just needed to avoid stumbling off it Tuesday afternoon.
And in a tight battle with host Central Bucks South, North Penn did find a way to stay on track to its first conference crown since 2007. With few scoring chances between the two sides, the Knights finally broke through in the second half – Luke McMahon and Nate Baxter both finding the back of the net to send North Penn to a 2-0 victory over the Titans.
“This is the first step,” North Penn coach Paul Duddy said. “Today we have to win it or Thursday night, not that it doesn’t matter, but if we’re going to win this conference, which we haven’t done in some years, it’s like OK we have to take care of it today, we’ll take care of the business.”
“To their credit, the boys did. Now it’s all in the table for us Thursday night.”
The victory was the fifth straight for the Knights (13-3-0, 9-2-0 conference), who earned a chance to win the SOL Continental when conference leader Central Bucks East was edged 1-0 by William Tennent last Friday. Trailing East by just a point in the standings, Tuesday’s win over Souderton put NP up two (27 to 25) with a win over Pennridge 7 p.m. Thursday giving the Knights the program’s fist conference title since taking the SOL National in 2007.
“It was nerve-racking but coaches prepared us well throughout the week,” McMahon said. “We had a weekend practice. And we really got ready, we knew that they were going to be a good team. We knew that we had to score first to put the pressure on them to come at us.”
The loss snapped a five-game win streak for Central Bucks South (9-7-1, 6-4-1), which came into the week 25th in the unofficial District 1-AAAA power rankings, one spot out of the 24-team playoff field. The Titans beat Abington 3-1 Monday and after Tuesday’s defeat have one more chance to boost their postseason chances when they visit Central Bucks East 3:30 p.m. Thursday.
A South win or tie against East would also give North Penn the SOL Continental title.
McMahon finally broke the scoreless deadlock in the second half thanks to a nice assist from Carter Houlihan.
“Carter played the ball really well. It was a great play by him, it wasn’t just me,” McMahon said. “It was the team play that also led up to it that allowed me to get the shot off.”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) October 18, 2016
After an initial foray by Houlihan into the CB South box was denied, North Penn won possession back in the Titans’ half. The ball got back to Houlihan, who sent a perfect through ball to a charging McMahon in the 18-yard area. McMahon knocked a shot past outcoming keeper Brady Day to make it 1-0.
“I saw Carter get the ball and I saw the space in front of him so I decided to make the diagonal run and get the ball and put it far post,” McMahon said.
The relief and excitement the goal provided was apparent with McMahon running over the sideline to celebrate the goal with a jubilant Knights bench.
“It was crazy because we know how long Coach Duddy’s been at this and he’s never won a (Continental) conference title,” McMahon said. “and with this team we thought we could, so we tried our best this season and to see it all pay off.”
South did have good opportunities to pull level after McMahon’s tally. The Titans earned a free kick and played it on the ground at the goal, but no Titan could get a foot on it. North Penn keeper Bobby Dean then came up big on a shot by Jason Reimert, reaching behind himself to make the save.
“They’re a very good team, they always play us tough,” said Duddy of CB South. “It’s almost like a lot of years it seems like we split. We beat them first, they beat us second time type of situation.”
But Baxter provided a second goal for North Penn to collect the regular season sweep, the Knights having edged the Titans 2-1 in their first meeting Sept. 22. McMahon passed a ball back to Mike Kohler, who lofted a ball to Baxter on the left side of the box. After one bounce, Baxter lofted a shot over Day to double the advantage.
“Nate really can hit,” Duddy said. “Cool, calm, collected, look up, see where the keeper is and kind of chipped it.”
— Mike Cabrey (@mpcabrey) October 18, 2016
The first half was a stalemate and while South did get a few shots on goal, they were directed right at Dean.
“They shut us down. Normally we create probably six chances a half,” Duddy said. “Credit to them, credit to them and (South coach) Don Brady for the way they played. They knew what we do and they shut a lot of what we normally do down. Credit to them, that’s all I can say.”
Top Photo: Central Bucks South’s Kevin Berntsen tries to steal the ball from North Penn’s Luke McMahon during their game on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2016. (Bob Raines/Digital First Media)