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Haverford, Episcopal fight to draw at Talen Energy Stadium

CHESTER >> With about 10 minutes to play Tuesday night, in an apparent nod to his surroundings, Johnny Cunningham kicked into soccer survival mode.

His Episcopal Academy side trailed archrival Haverford School by a goal in the one-for-the-photo-album occasion at Talen Energy Stadium, home of the Philadelphia Union. But all Cunningham had in mind, no matter how spacious the setting, was trying to get a result.

Episcopal Academy’s Andrew Brenner (14) heads home the equalizing goal late in the second half of a 1-1 tie with Haverford School at Talen Energy Stadium Tuesday night. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

A switch of the senior central defender into midfield helped inspired the game-tying goal with eight minutes to play — a memorable first career tally for Andrew Brenner — as the Churchmen and Fords gritted out a 1-all tie.

“Our emotions were flying,” Cunningham said of the final 20 minutes. “My coach, the last 10 minutes of the game, we were down 1-0 and I said, ‘coach can I go up top?’ He was like, ‘no you can’t go up top,’ but he put me in center mid. Luckily we got one and we were freaking out. He asked me after regular time, ‘do you want to go back in the center (of defense)?’ I was like, ‘no, I’ll stay in center mid because we’re going for that goal. We’re not going for a tie.’”

Cunningham extinguished fires all evening in central defense and supplied occasional bombing runs forward. His most important contribution was in limiting the Fords (5-6-4, 1-3-2 Inter-Ac) to just Nik Golz’s 18th-minute tally despite Haverford owning the better of possession for long stretches.

The center-of-the-pitch triangle of Cunningham, center back partner Nick Wallick and hulking central midfielder Gabe Furey helped ensure that the Fords’ possession failed to manifest on the scoreboard.

“The spine is really important, especially when Gabe Furey is 6-foot-4, he’s winning all those headers,” Cunningham said. “… Having that middle three and being able to control and have the knowledge of what our players need to do really helps us out on the field.”

The Fords looked destined to run away with the game early, cashing in on nearly one-way pressure in the 18th. The center forward Golz waited for the high bounce of a Michael Pilkington long ball lumped out of the back that put out a defender as it bounded into the box.

Golz let the ball run onto his left foot in the left channel, then lashed a first-time volley low and to the near post that EA starting goalie Alex Geczy couldn’t get to.

“I like getting behind the defense, and it’s obviously a big field, bigger than we’re used to, and so the game plan coming in was getting the defense facing their goal and that’s what we did,” Golz said. “I got onto it and didn’t want to take a touch because I knew that I was the only one up there, so I just let it go and it went in.”

The larger playing surface at Talen Energy Stadium proved both a gift and a curse for the fleet-footed Fords. The vast expanse of turf allowed their wingers space on the ball and expanded the available real estate in the center of the pitch. But too often, it tempted them into rash shots from distance.

Episcopal’s Johnny Cunningham (6) makes a tackle to block a shot by Haverford School’s Julius Golz at Talen Energy Stadium Tuesday evening. The game ended in a 1-1 tie. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

Often, those were handled by EA’s youthful goalkeeping platoon. Geczy, a freshman, made four-first half stops, including a superb diving save on Nick Pippis’ rip from 30 yards out. Sophomore Trevor Manion denied three efforts, including a catch of a Scott Marshall header off a free kick with six minutes to play.

That allowed room for Brenner to pick up his first varsity goal at the perfect moment. Haverford goalie Will Boyes punched out the original free kick lofted in by Harrison Malone. But Brenner was there on the doorstep to head home the follow into the open net for EA (15-2-2, 2-2-1).

“It’s great,” Brenner said. “… I was kind of in the moment, kind of thing. It just felt great but I wanted to get another goal afterward, so I wanted to get the ball and get it back.”

Brenner’s goal opened the floodgates to a back-and-forth final quarter hour, including extra time. Sam Wilson and Parker Gravina traded open looks that went just high. Malone tested Boyes late in regulation, while Gravina’s long-range shot was gobbled up in the first OT period. Wallick sacrificed his body to block a Griffin Wada howitzer, and a second-OT header by Haverford’s Will Micheletti off a corner glanced wide.

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