FALLS >> There was not one specific play that changed the momentum of Saturday’s District 1-AAAA boys soccer quarterfinal but rather the collective play of North Penn in the second half as the Knights came from behind for a 2-1 win over Pennsbury.
“They’re a very good team, they deserve all the credit,” North Penn coach Paul Duddy said of Pennsbury. “It was a hard-played game (by) both teams (and) fair.”
The win puts North Penn into the PIAA playoffs for the first time since 2004 as it will take on the top-seeded Conestoga on Wednesday in the district semifinals.
“It’s been awhile,” Duddy said of the return trip back to states. “We’ve been so close, so often but we just couldn’t get over that hump and finally today we did.”
Gameplay was tight in the midfield through the early going with chances at a premium for both sides. It was a free kick goal, beautifully spotted by Zach LoBasso that gave the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
“They were going to want to possess the ball 60 percent of the time, we were going to want to possess it 50 percent of the time so it was going to be a little bit of a battle there,” said Pennsbury coach Tom Stoddart of the team’s conflicting playing styles. “I told my kids not to get frustrated with it and just sit in and do what you have to do and our attack is dangerous enough that I thought we could take advantage of it.”
The one-goal margin held until halftime. Coming out of the break North Penn started to put some offensive pressure on spurred by some great runs from forward Luke McMahon.
“I just try to do what’s best for the team,” McMahon said. “So if I see a slot that I think I should run into where I can get the ball and help the team out and score a goal then I’m going to run into it and hopefully find it.”
It took just five minutes into the second half for the Knights to level the score. Mike Kohler played a great ball deep into the Pennsbury half where Nate Baxter hit far-post cross right on to the foot of McMahon, who finished for the goal.
Just over 15 minutes later Carter Houlihan ripped a shot that was saved by Falcons keeper Nathan Slotnik but McMahon was there to clean up, burying the rebound to give the Knights a 2-1 lead.
“We talked about it at half that you can’t come back (all at once),” Duddy said. “You got to get the first goal. About five minutes in we did get a goal and we calmed down after that.”
As some scrappy play from both sides picked up in the second half North Penn was able to keep levelheaded and keep Pennsbury off the score sheet despite a good late push by the Falcons.
“We’ve had a few talks over the past few days and we knew coming in that we had a mission,” McMahon said. “Our mission was now that we won the league what can we do next? And our next goal was to win districts and get to the state playoffs and this game helped us.”
For the Falcons their season is not done, Pennsbury just has to take the tough road to states as it has to compete for the fifth spot. The Falcons take on Central Bucks East in a do-or-die spot. The Patriots will be third straight Suburban One Continental Conference team Pennsbury will face in the district playoffs.
“That fifth spot not only a trip to the state tournament but it’s actually a good position to get into the state tournament,” Stoddart said. “You don’t play for the fifth spot but now we are so we’re going to do our best. It should be a pretty competitive four-team tournament.”