EAST WHITELAND >> With everything riding on the ball, spotted 12 yards out from the net, the Faith Christian Academy boys soccer team looked to someone to take charge.
As he has done all season, Blake Meyers embraced the moment. Faith’s senior captain stepped up to take a penalty kick with 8:40 left in a tie game against a Plumstead Christian team that had haunted FCA in years past.
Meyers embraced the moment, stepped up to the spot and buried it, lifting FCA to a 2-1 win over its nemesis in the District 1-A boys soccer title game at Great Valley on Tuesday. Meyers’ kick was also a historic one, as the Lions won their first ever district title and are going to their first-ever PIAA playoffs.
“Some teams will come in and there’s some drama, but there was nothing with this team,” Meyers said. “That was what was different than any other team that’s gone through this school. No other team was able to accomplish this goal.”
Plumstead knocked out Faith last year and two years ago, ended the Lions season in the district semifinals on penalty kicks. Three years ago, New Hope-Solebury defeated the Lions in the championship. Meyers was there for all three of them.
For the Lions, it was as baffling as it was frustrating. FCA has dominated the regular season meetings, including this year, but it couldn’t get by the Panthers in the postseason.
Plumstead started out on fire led by the technical quality of Justin Brautigam. Brautigam shredded his way up the left flank, often overlapping with Connor White, and put a tremendous amount of pressure on Faith.
But his sixth-minute strike for a goal would come off the opposite flank. Left far too open on the right, Brautigam zeroed in and ripped a laser to the far post that had no chance of being saved.
“We came out knowing we had beaten them 3-1 the last match and they didn’t have too much offensively but credit to them,” FCA coach Ryan Clymer said. “They came out and worked the ball really, really well and caught us off guard. Thankfully it was a goal in the first 10 minutes and not later in the match. I think it woke us up.”
About five minutes later he threaded a great ball to White that ended with a shot wide.
To the Lions’ credit, they didn’t break again and settled enough to start playing defense on their right side. Up top, Kazuya Hirano seemed poised to make something happen after he moved out of his center attacking midfield role.
He did when a flicked on header landed in 50/50 territory in the box. Hirano went to ground, getting enough power behind his slide to push the ball under Panthers keeper Artie Micheel to level the score with 14:25 left.
Hirano’s goal was his 28th of the season, the ongoing payoff of a lot of work in the offseason and early weeks of the campaign that tuned all his talent into goals.
“I didn’t have the confidence to score but as I played along with the team and got to know everyone on the team and how they play, I learned where they would pass and where to make the runs at the best time,” Hirano said. “I gained my confidence throughout the season and all the guys backed me up so I could shoot as many times as I could and lead to the goals.”
The goal really got Faith back into it and the Lions looked the better team to head into the break. FCA didn’t have as much technical play across the board as Plumstead, but its big guys like Heys Huber and Michael Pearson wore down the Panthers. Pearson is a big body in the midfield, but he also makes a lot happen and Meyers said Pearson was as integral as any other guy on the field.
The early second half felt like a waiting game for Brautigam or Hirano to do something. Brautigam was guilty of trying to do too much, looking to dribble by five or six men in the box. He also wasn’t able to latch on to the ball as easily as Faith made him work harder and harder.
Hirano didn’t over-exert himself and when the time came for him to impact the game, he did.
“Two minutes after he got put up top, he scored,” Clymer said. “That’s the type of player he is. He’s quick, he’s dynamic, he’s great with the ball, he’s technical and he has a nose for the net. He didn’t have it last year, he only had six to eight goals last year so we worked on that. Who can stop him? Only him and he showed that tonight.”
About four minutes after Meyers had slammed a shot off the crossbar, a Faith player ripped a shot that Micheel saved but failed to corral. With the ball bouncing around, the keeper out of position and the net gaping, Hirano appeared in open space with the ball coming his way.
He never got a shot off, instead getting tangled up with a defender. Hirano said the Plumstead player pulled his shirt and the two went to the ground, denying a goal scoring opportunity and giving Faith a penalty kick with 8:40 on the clock.
“A lot of guys were hesitant to take it and it’s one of those things where someone has to be confident and take it,” Meyers said. “I figured someone has to do it. I’ve led the team all year, so why stop now?”
Meyers stepped up, delivered and will have a chance to keep leading his team next week in states.
PLUMSTEAD CHRISTIAN 1 0 – 1
FAITH CHRISTIAN ACADEMY 1 1 – 2
Goals: P – Luke Brautigam 6’; FCA – Kazuya Hirano (Enrique Ansorena) 26’, Blake Meyers (PK) 81’.
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