CORNWELLS HEIGHTS – Top-seeded Holy Ghost Prep (HGP) had just drawn even with 5th-seeded Harriton in the District 1-Class AAA boys soccer semifinal and no less than 18 seconds later, Harriton senior Jake Grossman got a foot on the end of a cross from classmate Ethan Rodgers, giving the Rams the winning 3-2 edge.
“We scored to tie the game and then we just … you can’t give up a goal 10 seconds later,” stated an obviously frustrated Ken Lawson, the Firebirds’ head coach.
“It’s every sport – once you score that goal, you gotta defend and we didn’t; we let (Harriton) walk right down the middle.
With the win, the visiting Rams (13-6) earn an automatic berth in states and advance to the D-1 championship battle vs. No. 2 seed Bishop Shanahan (17-3), which punched its ticket to states with a 2-0 win over No. 3 Phoenixville.
Holy Ghost’s 2017 campaign ends at 18-2 a year after the ‘birds made it to the D-1 final and qualified for states.
“This is not what we expected; we didn’t,” said Lawson. “I thought talent-wise, we were one of the top 3A teams in the state and I felt we should be in the state tournament.
“But, we’re not, because anything can happen in a playoff game.”
A little over 18 minutes into the contest, Harriton was awarded a free kick 35 yards out – near a spot where Rodgers tumbled to the turf. The senior followed up by tipping a ball into the back of the net off the feed from junior Evan Tracy that put the visitors up 1-0, with 21:23 still to play in the first half.
The goal certainly seemed to energize the Rams, who entered the contest with a 13-6 record, a mark that includes a 1-0 triumph over No. 4 seed Radnor in the D-1 quarterfinals.
“I think they rode off of that goal that they got. But I don’t know how that was a foul,” said Lawson. “They put it in and it helped them to gain the belief, which I think they needed.”
After trailing 1-0 at the half, Holy Ghost regrouped.
“We were down but we got in at halftime and talked things over,” said Lawson. “I thought we responded real well – the second half, we really took it to them.”
While it was Harriton getting the first scoring chance after the break, the Firebirds were the first team to capitalize.
HGP junior Nkosi Graham headed a corner kick that came in from the right side from classmate Ethan Ruppersberger to an awaiting Connor Fife, who made no mistake on a header that deadlocked the sides at 1-all just seven minutes into the second half.
Eight minutes later, Fife was taken down inside the box. Instead of a penalty kick, Fife was hit with a yellow card, sending Ghost’s leading scorer to the bench for the next five minutes.
“We expected that call. We expected to put that in the net and we’re in front. Then, it’s a different game,” explained Lawson. “The (referee’s) explanation was that Connor jumped and fell. I’m sorry, the (defender) kicked him in the leg and he fell down. How that’s not a foul, I don’t know.”
Still, Lawson refused to hang the loss on the official’s call.
“In the end, we just didn’t play good enough,” said Lawson. “I don’t want to take anything away from them but I thought we were the better team.
“The officiating didn’t do anything to help us but hey, that happens. You have to overcome that.
“Today, we didn’t.
Defensive lapses by Ghost contributed to the upset by the Rams.
Eighteen minutes into the second half, Harriton senior Serhat Sercasan latched onto a ‘birds turnover just 12 yards out. Sercasan made the home team pay for the defensive gaffe, putting an unassisted goal into the back of the net that put the Rams on top once more.
With 19:30 to go in the second half, Rodgers nearly gave his team a two-goal cushion on a free kick he looped into the HGP goal. Instead, the ball clanked off the crossbar, allowing the Firebird faithful to breathe a sigh of relief.
With 9:46 remaining in regulation, Ghost got the equalizer it so desperately craved – on an own-goal, no less. HGP senior Alex Finney sent a dangerous free kick into the right side of the Rams’ goal that somehow bounced off a Harriton defender into the back of the net.
Eighteen seconds later, Rodgers pushed the ball straight through the heart of the ‘birds defense, down the left side of the field, sending a crossing pass through the goalmouth. The ensuing goal by Grossman put a stake through Holy Ghost’s heart.
Looking back, the Firebirds sure could have used a goal on one of at least a half-dozen corner kicks it was awarded in the first half.
“We had three great opportunities in the first half, and didn’t score,” said Lawson. “Nineteen (Emil Anderson) did a real good job for them with balls in the air.”
“And they defended pretty well.”
“Offensively, I don’t think they gave us that much to be concerned about but hats off to them.”
Holy Ghost says goodbye to nine seniors including Fife, its leading scorer with 21 goals. The entire back line will also graduate in June including Finney, Brendan Eagan, Sasha Rubenstein and Cole Martilloti.
A junior who recorded 19 goals on the season, Graham will lead the Firebirds’ offense next year.
HGP sophomore goalkeeper T.J. Butler, who notched seven shutouts on the season, will lead the defense.
District 1 Class AAA Tournament
Harriton 3, Holy Ghost Prep 2
(Oct. 31 at HGP)
FIRST-HALF GOALS: H – Ethan Rodgers, from Evan Tracy, 19th minute; HGP – none.
SECOND-HALF GOALS: HGP – Connor Fife, from Nkosi Graham, 47th minute, own goal, 71st minute; H – Serhat Sercasan, unassisted, 58th minute, Jake Grossman, from Rodgers, 71st minute.
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