BUCKTOWN >> There hadn’t been a repeat champion in Pioneer Athletic Conference boys soccer since 2008 and it certainly didn’t look like Boyertown was going to change the trend throughout much of the regular season.
The Bears might have been tardy. But now they’re the ones having the party.
High-flying Boyertown’s late-season surge continued Thursday night in the league final with two goals in the first 10 minutes and a comprehensive overall performance as the Bears took down Pottsgrove, 3-1, to repeat as Pioneer Athletic Conference champions.
“It means the world to be back here and to win it again,” senior midfielder Nik Verma said. “This is my third time (final) in a row and to win it two times in a row is crazy.”
“As everyone knows, we had a sluggish start (to the season). To be back here in the PAC final and to win it with a two-peat is remarkable,” junior Jimmy Towers said.
Verma’s imprint was all over the Bears’ breathless start as he hit for two goals, the first on a penalty kick less than two minutes in. After Pottsgrove’s Mike Sereny leveled the match six minutes later when Jacob Spotts’ long throw-in fell to him on the far side, Verma came up with a stunning strike on the volley hit into the top right corner on a pass from Will Schul to put Boyertown up 2-1 within 10 minutes.
PAC boys soccer champion Boyertown pic.twitter.com/axMomp75f7
— Austin Hertzog (@AustinHertzog) October 21, 2016
It was a lead the Bears would never relinquish, especially following Towers’ clinical near-side finish with 15 minutes left in the game.
“Coach always says, ‘Let’s match their match and take it a step farther.’ I think that’s what we did and we showed that in the first 20 minutes and the second half we gave it our all and came out on top,” Towers said.
Boyertown’s senior-led group taking back-to-back titles is the first to repeat since Owen J. Roberts took three straight from 2006-08.
It appeared improbable after a 1-3 start in league play.
“There were a couple games here and there, 1-nil losses where we got down on ourselves, but we really got to each other and we picked it up,” Verma said. “We snapped out of it. We realized that these sluggish performances weren’t going to get us anywhere.
“We realized it late, but it’s a good thing we did.”
Head coach Scott Didyoung always felt his team could get going in the right direction.
“We were playing well in the matches we lost in the beginning of the season. We just weren’t finishing our chances. To this point, there were only three halves that I wasn’t happy with,” Didyoung said after his fourth PAC title.
“They expected it to be easier. But the valuable lesson they got out of it was that it wasn’t easy and they kept persevering.”
Boyertown (14-6) denied Pottsgrove (14-5-1) the league title in the Falcons’ first appearance in the championship game after 11 previous semifinal appearances that never netted to trip to the final 2.
“I’m not embarrassed at how we played. I’m proud of the kids,” Pottsgrove coach Jay Witkowski said. “They put a good game out there. Every one of them should be proud of how they played. (Boyertown’s) a good team.”
The Bears out-shot Pottsgrove 10-5 and got four-save goalkeeping from Connor McKeown. For Pottsgrove, Ryan Long, who was in the lineup in place of starter Liam Abdalla (red card in semifinal win over OJR), made seven.
The game expected to turn on how Boyertown could assert its high pressure approach on the Falcons, who prefer a more possession-oriented style. The Bears’ flooding start was even more than they anticipated.
“We knew we were going to do that but we didn’t think we were going to do it to that extent,” Verma said.
Pottsgrove wasn’t without its chances – Nate Yuchimiuk got under the defense for two big chances yet couldn’t convert either – but the defense led by McKeown, captain Erik Recke and Owen Kulig wouldn’t concede for the final 70 minutes.
“They hit two perfect shots. We had chances and we didn’t put them in the net. It’s a funny game that way,” Witkowski said.
Once Towers made it 3-1 in a stretch where he and forward Alex Kidwell were gaining traction in the final third, the Bears were on their way.
That was probably the first time all season the Bears could truly see their goal within reach.
“We came together as a team,’ Towers said. “We asked ourselves (during the slow start), ‘What’s our goal this year?’ We want to repeat, win it back-to-back. And that’s what we got.”