Lower Moreland boys soccer coach Matt Crouch didn’t like what he saw from his players prior to their loss to Lansdale Catholic in the District 1/12 regional championship last week.
The normally upbeat, jovial and loose Lions were almost silent on the bus ride to the game, then flat once play started. As a result, they lost to the Crusaders and had to take a trip to Hamburg to play what looked like a powerhouse team in Tulpehocken.
Tuesday’s bus ride and warm-up were much different. Crouch liked what he saw then really liked the result, a gutsy 1-0 win against a team that had scored more than 100 goals this season and had just one loss entering the match. As a result, Lower Moreland is moving on in the state tournament.
“Everybody kept talking about their record and I found out from a reporter then had scored 100-plus goals on opponents this year but we didn’t know much about them,” Crouch said by phone while traveling home on Tuesday.
Bryce Horn provided the lone tally, a bit of a right time, right place tally but it was enough thanks to the efforts of Lower Moreland’s numerous seniors. The Lions have 10 total seniors on a 20-man roster and while they don’t all get minutes, they are the heart of the team.
Tulpehocken’s forward tandem had combined for more than 55 goals and 20 assists, so it was a tall order for Lower Moreland’s back line, all seniors, to try and limit the chances.
“They’re pretty well-seasoned players,” Crouch said. “They’re not jumpy, they’re very patient and not super-aggressive which is what I thought we needed to contain those guys. Guys tend to get jumpy and want to chase and that’s when you get beat. I don’t know, I guess the age and experience back there helped.”
It was the first state game since Crouch has been with the program, nine overall and seven as the head coach.
The first state game is different for every team. Instead of dwelling on a bad performance, the Lions tried to keep things more loose at training on Monday. Crouch said it wasn’t something they’d had a chance to do this season and it certainly seemed to help on Tuesday.
“It was just a different vibe,” Crouch said. “They showed up mentally even before the game.”
Lower Moreland also embraced its underdog role.
“We spoke at practice and the boys were even repeating the phrase it’s just gravy on the mashed potatoes from here on out,” Crouch said. “Let’s just have fun and play soccer for the love of the game and if we win, we win.”
Junior Devon Asplundh, a defensive midfielder, was an impact player who put in a strong shift every time he stepped on the field, Crouch said.
Crouch said the entire game was a lot of back-and-forth between both teams with his side’s early surge getting pushed back by Tulpehocken and it swinging between the two. The crowd was heavily in Tulpehocken’s favor with the LM coach estimating they had about 400 fans to about 20 Lions faithful and the energy did seem to get to his guys in the second half.
Lower Moreland had a lull in the second half, which Crouch attributed to his guys getting a little worn down and the crowd pumping Tulpehocken up. Then senior co-captain Derek Mitchell got loose down the left side then everything changed.
Mitchell was a factor all night, not just on the goal’s build-up.
“He challenged all game long,” Crouch said. “He didn’t get one to drop but he hit the post a couple times. He was coming from the left to the right, it was a bit of a different position he was playing, we got him a different look and I thought for sure Tulephocken was going to make an effort to shut him down. They didn’t make an adjustments on him and he was a key reason in the second half why we scored.”
Mitchell played a ball off the left side into the box. Tulephocken’s keeper punched it out but only to Mike McLaughlin, who put a great header back in that found Bryce Horn on the far post about two years out. Horn had only to tap it in and the Lions were in the lead.
“They put some real quality chances on to try and tie the game up, they didn’t go away,” Crouch said. “The stadium scorekeeper counted down from 10 and it just felt like an eternity.”
Lower Moreland will face District 4 champ Lewisburg on Saturday.