TOWAMENCIN >> As North Penn boys soccer coach Paul Duddy left the field for the final time this fall, he stopped to exchange greetings with a spectator.
As they shook hands, Duddy summed up what had just happened. “Good season, rough night,” the longtime coach said. It had been an uncharacteristic match for the No. 3 seed Knights, who looked out of sorts from almost the opening tap in their district playoff opener.
Against a team as good as No. 19 Council Rock North, it was a bad omen. The Indians topped North Penn 3-0 in the second round Thursday night, bringing the Knights’ terrific season to a crashing end.
“Look, they’re a good team and they beat us to a lot of balls and got the early goal,” Duddy said. “That’s a difference maker for sure. They defended so well, all the stuff we can normally do and get behind defenses, we were not able to do that tonight.”
CR North, the SOL National champion, entered the postseason as a low seed but a side anyone in the know would have been able to peg as a dangerous opponent. Even late in the season, after Harry S. Truman had to forfeit a number of games that left the Indians on the bubble, Duddy said CR North deserved to be a playoff team.
Likewise, the Indians knew what they were getting into with North Penn, the SOL Continental champion. After playing, at least to their standards, subpar in their first round win at Upper Dublin, North knew it needed to better the effort on Thursday.
“We know they’re a very good team and we played Upper Dublin the other night, who was good too, so we prepare for who’s dangerous and try to play our game,” CR North senior Conor O’Donnell said. “We always talk about the first five (minutes) and the last five. We came out flat in the last game so we knew we had to come out and stick it to them, especially against a very good team.”
The Indians got just the start they wanted, scoring in the first four minutes of the game when Ryan Pave capitalized when a Knights defender deflected a cross into his path in the box. Pave’s clinical finish not only put North up, but showed Duddy something he hadn’t seen in his team to that point.
North Penn’s entire defensive unit was making its first playoff start and at times, they looked nervous under pressure. Balls that were cleared during the regular season became dicey and O’Donnell was able to take advantage of one of those with 21:12 left in the first half.
A free kick by massive center back Zach Saifer sailed into the box, bounced and found O’Donnell, who slid under the keeper for a 2-0 lead.
“We’re hungry for goals and I think that’s come as the season’s gone on, we’ve had more of a hunger to score,” O’Donnell said. “Ryan Pave made a great play on a ball coming out of the box and pounced on it.”
“It seemed like we were nervous, maybe I didn’t address that correctly in the couple days ahead of time,” Duddy said. “We’re the No. 3 seed, we shouldn’t be nervous. I think, to (North’s) credit, we played out of character. Usually we can knock the ball around and play good soccer but not tonight. Credit them, they put pressure on us all around the field.”
North’s third goal came with 20:51 left when O’Donnell drove a free kick into the box that took an unlucky deflection off a defender for an own goal. The Indians senior co-captain said while that didn’t seal the game, it gave him and his guys the drive to finish off the result.
The Indians’ defense was fantastic on Thursday, led by gigantic junior center back Saifer.
“They’re just a solid back line and Zach Saifer is a monster,” O’Donnell said. “He’s 6-foot-6, with a Mohawk, he’s an intimidating dude. The whole group has really stepped up for us.”
While many pegged North Penn for a bit of a rebuild after graduating a senior core that led the program to states last year, the guys in the program knew they could compete. They did just that, winning the Continental for the second straight year and playing PCL top seed La Salle to a draw late in the season.
This year’s senior class, with guys like midfielders Jack Johnston and Matt Murphy, forward-turned-back Matt Farrell and keepers Joey Lindsay and Jake Millevoi, is a group of blue-collar, hard workers and that’s what returning players like Luke McMahon want to emulate.
“I look at this as a successful season when everybody said it was going to be a rebuilding season,” McMahon said. “Jack Johnston , Matt Farrell, Matt Murphy, they took up the captain positions and really led us to a great year. We have to follow what they did, they led by example. They knew what it felt like getting to states and knew what we had to do.”
As the Knights huddled for the last time on a playing field, the seniors told the underclassmen to use Thursday’s outcome as motivation and let it drive them to bigger and better things next year. With players like McMahon, sophomore Carter Houlihan, junior Aiden Jerome and sophomore Mike Chaffee among the returners, North Penn has a bright future.
But Thursday, they were more focused on the present and the guys they wouldn’t get to play with again.
“Next season, we’re going to come out and play for our season because right now, every single one of us hates this feeling,” McMahon said. “I don’t think any of these guys are looking to play in college, so for them it might be the end of the road playing competitive soccer and we want to play our hearts out for them and everyone who’s played for North Penn, they’re our brothers.”
North will head to Wissahickon on Saturday in the quarterfinals with a chance to win its way into the state tournament.
“It’s so easy to get lost in the heat of the moment, get a hard foul or get into it with a ref, we just have to play our game and know there’s a lot at stake,” O’Donnell said. “In a high school playoff game, it’s hard to play feet, there’s a lot of energy going. We have a good group of guys, so we play our game and stick to what we know.”
COUNCIL ROCK NORTH 3, NORTH PENN 0
COUNCIL ROCK NORTH 2 1 – 3
NORTH PENN 0 0 – 0
Goals: CRN – Ryan Pave, Conor O’Donnell, own goal.
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