TOWAMENCIN >> The weather was more befitting a late-season fixture than a first week scrap, but given the participants, it was fitting.
After all, North Penn and Central Bucks East have been fighting for the Suburban One League Continental boys soccer title a lot in recent years, so it almost needed to feel like the end of the season when the title picture is getting sorted out. Like seemingly every other time these teams have faced off, it was a tight, physical battle sorted out by the narrowest of margins.
Thanks to a second-chance rip by Aidan Jerome, it was North Penn who emerged with a 1-0 win at home in a rain-soaked matchup, Wednesday.
“I was thinking it was going to be a good challenge and a good way to show the whole league and the whole state what we’ve got,” Knights senior midfielder Jack Johnston said. “I think we’re a great team and we want to be challenged and pushed to show what we can do.”
GOAL North Penn. Aidan Jerome with second chance goal off free kick with 10:32 left second half pic.twitter.com/9eNuLqoc1o
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) September 6, 2017
Wednesday was the first game of the year for North Penn, while East had dropped a nonleague game to Spring-Ford last week. As is so often the case with North Penn, the Knights are breaking in a host of new players, both as starters and to the varsity roster overall.
It helped that the Knights, the SOL Continental champions last year, brought back some key pieces like Johnston, Jerome and sophomore Carter Houlihan. North Penn also has striker Luke McMahon back, but he missed Wednesday’s game due to illness.
“We knew we had to stay organized, get the ball up the field and take some shots,” Jerome said. “We said that all we had to do was shoot the ball. We had a good feeling, we knew one (a goal) was coming and we had to keep the pressure on them.”
With a wet ball on wet turf with rain falling, it didn’t lend itself to much artistry on the field, but North Penn still dominated most of the first half. Houlihan, who started the game on the back line but quickly found himself rampaging through the middle of the pitch, had a lot to do with that.
The sophomore’s hard-nose approach won the Knights plenty of free kicks, including the set piece that would eventually lead to Jerome’s winner with 10:32 left in the match. Prior to the match, the East coaches preached matching North Penn’s direct style and intensity, but the Knights simply controlled play.
Johnston, a senior co-captain, helped set the tone in the midfield and especially in the air.
“It’s huge because it lets us keep the ball going in the direction we want,” Johnston said. “We’re stopping the ball from going back to our defenders so if us midfield guys can do what we did and keep heading it forward, it gives us more opportunities to score.”
Jerome rang the far post in the first half and overall, North Penn had a 9-3 edge in shots and 3-1 edge in shots on goal. The North Penn backline, which is almost all new starters, performed well with freshman Josh Jones putting in a good shift at right back.
East upped its intensity in the second half but North Penn still created the better chances, including a tantalizing shot by Ryan Stewart that forced a fingertip save by East keeper Jordan Geller. It was North Penn’s refusal to stop knocking on the door that eventually led to a finish.
“It’s a great rivalry and the game could have gone either way, there’s no doubt,” North Penn coach Paul Duddy said. “Our guys play on club teams and when they get in here, we have to change some things but they’re good players. The trick is to get them into the right positions.”
The deciding play was set up when Houlihan was taken down fighting for the ball just outside the left corner of the box. Senior Brett Katz played in a service that Houlihan flicked toward the net. Geller went up and knocked it away but collided with another player in doing so.
Geller went down, but the officials allowed play to continue and the ball found its way to Jerome, who got enough of the ball to knock it home.
“I saw there was no one in net and I could take the shot,” Jerome said. “I felt it was coming all along, we had most of the pressure the whole game.”
Things don’t get easier for North Penn with a trip to CB West on Friday. The Knights still have some tinkering to do with their formation, what positions best suit which players and how the reserves will figure into things.
After the game, Duddy told his players it was only three points and it’s too early for it to matter all that much. Still, it was a good debut for North Penn and the kind of start the Knights wanted.
“We’re all friends, so that helps, we’re all close,” Johnston said. “We all take that mentality of knowing North Penn is supposed to be a good team and everyone has to step up if they can to make the best of it.”
NORTH PENN 1, CB EAST 0
CB EAST 0 0 – 0
NORTH PENN 0 1 – 1
Goals: NP – Aidan Jerome (Carter Houlihan, Brett Katz). Saves: CBE – Jordan Geller 5, NP – Joey Lindsay 2