DOWNINGTOWN >> It wasn’t easy — especially giving up the equalizer with less than seven minutes left in regulation. But not once the rest of the way did the Conestoga boys’ soccer team experience any sort of crisis of confidence.
The Central League champions and district finalists have been in similar positions many times before this fall, so it should be no surprise that Conestoga quickly regrouped. And in overtime the Pioneers went on to register a 2-1 victory over a stubborn Parkland squad in the opening round of the PIAA Class 4A Playoffs on Tuesday at DeSerafino Stadium.
“This is the ninth game this season that we’ve won in either the last 10 minutes or in overtime,” said ’Stoga head coach David Zimmerman.
“We had been dominating the entire second half, so there was no reason to worry. We were pretty confident,” added forward Chris Donovan.
The game-winner — at the 13:21 mark of the OT — came off the foot of Donovan. It was the biggest goal of the junior’s high school career.
“It’s my first game-winner in overtime, so that goal will be remembered,” Donovan said.
“It was a corner kick that went all the way over to the other side. (Defender) Mike McCarthy crossed it back in, Will Klein flicked it over to me,” he explained. “I honestly wasn’t expecting to get it, especially without any defender on me.”
With the win, Conestoga advances to the state quarterfinals on Saturday, where it will face Hempfield, which beat Neshaminy Tuesday, 1-0. The Pioneers improve to 22-1 overall.
“All I wanted to do this entire game was to get four more days with these guys. Now we have that,” Donovan said.
“We’ve been in a lot of close games, and we tried to schedule a tough regular season to challenge us, so we’ve been in this type of situation before,” Zimmerman added.
After more than 65 minutes of scoreless soccer, Conestoga finally broke through. Senior Gabe Harms went wide to beat a defender, and he centered it to a wide open Mason Miller, who fired it into the back of the net.
But the lead didn’t last long. With 6:40 remaining, Parkland’s Owen Iacobelli stunned the Pioneers with a laser that caught the upper right corner of the ’Stoga net.
“It was a great shot,” Zimmerman said. “I haven’t seen too many like that this season.
“But we felt like we dominated the second half, so we didn’t see any reason why we couldn’t continue to do so.
“Part of it is we just wear teams out with our depth. When you have a freshness advantage, it starts to show in the latter portion of the match. This pattern wasn’t unusual for us.”
Following a lackluster first half, Conestoga picked up the pressure to start the second half and came close to breaking the deadlock twice. In the opening five minutes, Rodrigo Martinez’s blast hit cleanly off the near post. And about six minutes later Miller’s shot was poked away at the last second by diving Parkland keeper Jacob Verrato.
Although the Pioneers had the territorial edge in the first half, it was Parkland’s Joshua Kiser had the two best early scoring chances. The first was a header that nearly got behind ’Stoga keeper, Luke Smith, and the second was a blast that just cleared the crossbar.
“You never know,” Zimmerman said. “You can’t make any assumptions. Soccer is such a low scoring game, in general, that a goal here or there is huge. Credit to Parkland. They are a very nice team.”
Parkland, the second-seed from District 11, finishes its season at 17-4-3.