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PAC Boys Soccer final preview: Pottsgrove vs. Boyertown

Jay Witkowski dated himself a bit.

“I’m the Marv Levy of PAC soccer,” the veteran Pottsgrove boys soccer head coach said. “But I’ve got to get the next one.”

Many of his players won’t know Levy, the head coach of the Buffalo Bills teams in the early 1990s that went to four straight Super Bowls and lost them all – no current Falcons players were born yet.

Witkowski is used to being the bridesmaid in the Pioneer Athletic Conference boys soccer playoffs. Prior to Tuesday, his teams had made the semifinals every year, only to lose in that round, never once reaching the title game.

Witkowski and the Falcons are finally at the altar, but a scorching hot reigning champion stands in the way of ‘I now pronounce you PAC champion.’

Thursday night’s Pioneer Athletic Conference boys soccer championship between Pottsgrove and Boyertown – 7 p.m. at Owen J. Roberts High School – features a matchup that won’t confuse which is the favorite and underdog.

Boyertown (9-4 PAC, 13-6 overall) is the reigning PAC champion and on a tear over the past two weeks, winners of five straight including two over PAC Liberty Division champion Spring-Ford (2-1 in Tuesday’s semifinal). The No. 4 seed Bears have gone from possibly being shut out of the postseason to 80 minutes from being the first repeat PAC champion since Owen J. Roberts’ three-peat from 2006-08.

Pottsgrove (11-1-1 PAC, 14-4-1) the Frontier Division champion, was the eternal underdog in the PAC playoffs. Apparently the 12th time was the charm. Since the league adopted a Final Four format in 2005, the Falcons had played in – and lost – the semifinals every time. Tuesday night the Falcons advanced to their first PAC final with a 2-1 takedown of OJR. It’s not entirely unexpected with a senior-laden group that won the District 1-AA title a year ago.

Head-to-head

The Bears and Falcons did not meet during the regular season. The last time they met was in the 2015 PAC semifinals, which Boyertown won 3-0. Current senior midfielders Will Schul and Nik Verma handled the scoring as the Bears turned a scoreless first half into a decisive three-goal victory.

Erik Recke, center left, and Nik Verma lead the celebration in front of the Boyertown fans after Recke scored the game-winning goal of the Bears' semifinal win over Spring-Ford Tuesday. (Austin Hertzog - Digital First Media)

Erik Recke, center left, and Nik Verma lead the celebration in front of the Boyertown fans after Recke scored the game-winning goal of the Bears’ semifinal win over Spring-Ford Tuesday. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Boyertown facts

•Longtime head coach Scott Didyoung’s Bears started the year 1-3 in the league, but went 8-1 against league opposition the rest of the way to earn the PAC’s second wild card, the first year for the format that allowed three teams from one division to make the Final Four.

•During five-game win streak, Bears have scored 17 goals to four conceded.

•Senior forward Alex Kidwell (16 goals) leads the line for Boyertown, alongside Sal Marciante and Jimmy Towers. Schul, who has scored in the last two PAC finals, and Verma are joined in the midfield by Sam Marks and Connor Reiss while senior captain Erik Recke, who scored the semifinal game-winner on a free kick, leads the defense alongside Ben Margavich, Owen Kulig, Ben Wise and goalkeeper Connor McKeown.

•The Bears are No. 20 in the most recent District 1-AAAA power rankings

Pottsgrove facts

•Pottsgrove went 10-0 against Frontier competition. The Falcons are 4-1 in their last five outings, outscoring opponents 17-5.

•Germann Larmond and Nate Yuchimiuk are the Falcons’ main goal threats. Tyler Rolando and Will Kaiser form the PAC’s best midfield tandem and are joined by Jacob Spotts. The defensive line consists of Jared Krieger and Nik Curnew at center back with Nick Makoid and Pat O’Brien on either side.

•The Falcons must make due without first-choice goalkeeper Liam Abdalla, who received a red card in the semifinal following an altercation with OJR’s Austin Koury after being superb through the first 75 minutes. Junior Ryan Long, who saw out the semifinal win, will get the start in goal.

Pottsgrove's Nick Makoid carries the ball out of the back as OJR's Nolan Smith pressures Tuesday. (Austin Hertzog - DFM)

Pottsgrove’s Nick Makoid carries the ball out of the back as OJR’s Nolan Smith pressures Tuesday. (Austin Hertzog – DFM)

The matchup

The final features teams with contrasting styles: Boyertown plays high pressure, high tempo; Pottsgrove is built on ball control and quick passing to build the attack. It will be easy to tell which team is in the ascendency based on the pace of play.

Boyertown has more than a few contributors with experience in last year’s final. Pottsgrove’s group cut its teeth by winning District 1-AA and qualifying for the PIAA Class AA Championships, so neither side is without big game experience.

The Pottsgrove D must be ready for a race on balls over the top for Kidwell and company; conversely the Bears’ D must contend with the skill of Larmond and pace of Yuchimiuk.

Prediction

The Falcons made a massive step forward to reach the final, but the Bears aren’t about to let them get greedy. Boyertown has found the level that was expected of them all season in the past two weeks and are finally playing like Goliaths. Their hot streak continues by going back-to-back … Boyertown 2, Pottsgrove 0

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