HERSHEY >> No Perkiomen Valley boys soccer player had been on a stage this large.
Heck, head coach Bob McCabe, in his 21 years leading the Vikings, hadn’t.
Perk Valley rode a wave to reach the PIAA Championships for the first time in school history by playing the role of overachieving underdog.
Tuesday’s opponent, District 3 champion Hempfield, had its own designs, though.
Perkiomen Valley’s good fortune ran out when Zach Wilson’s well-placed header of a Daniel Hester set-piece delivery in the first half proved to be the lone goal in Hempfield’s 1-0 victory in the first round of the PIAA Class 4A boys soccer tournament at Hersheypark Stadium.
Final: Hempfield 1, Perkiomen Valley 0, PIAA boys soccer 4A first round. District 3 champs are into the 2nd round on 1H header by Wilson pic.twitter.com/pxIkK5Aw3h
— Austin Hertzog (@AustinHertzog) November 8, 2017
The Red Knights (20-4) advance to the second round where they will meet the winner of Council Rock North and Northeast on Saturday at a site and time to be determined.
Perkiomen Valley (17-7) concludes the best run in program history where it became the first Pioneer Athletic Conference large school ever make the PIAA tournament by winning the fifth-place playback in District 1.
“We felt at the start of the season that we could do something special but we weren’t expecting this (to make states),” senior captain Mike Weir said.
“Even after beating Henderson (in the District 1 fifth-place playbacks), it was almost like ‘How are we here?’ We worked and we deserve it, but if you look at the teams and the personnel we played, on paper we shouldn’t be here.
“I’m so proud to have played with all of them my senior season. It’s been an honor.”
McCabe relished every bit of the journey, even though he hoped it would last longer.
“I’m bummed that we lost, but when you get to this level, the next loss and you’re out. It’s been such a fun ride so I’ve really enjoyed it,” he said.
“Obviously we wanted it to keep going and I wanted these guys to keep playing. I’m down, but I’m not disappointed. I’m super proud of this team and how they worked.”
Work rate and defensive intensity had become a calling card for the Vikings, led by Weir, standout goalkeeper Andrew Daubenspeck and fellow seniors Jake Rogers and Andrew Zielke. Tuesday they met a Hempfield team that matched them defensively – both team’s entered with 13 shutouts on the year – and had the goods going forward.
Austen Goodling and Drew Johnson carried a consistent threat up top, while defenders Wilson and Hester did damage on both ends for Hempfield.
The Black Knights controlled play early and had the Vikings on their heels while knowing PV’s defense-first strategy.
“We had tons of chances in the first five, 10 minutes, so it was just a matter of time that it was coming,” Wilson said..” I’m glad it did because I would’ve been very disappointed if we went into the half tied at zero. We had too many chances to let that get away.”
After hitting the crossbar once and having a string of chances, Hempfield got its lead after a foul down the right flank gave right back Hester a free kick. He played a centering cross onto the late-arriving head of Wilson, whose grazing header plopped directly inside of the back post with Daubenspeck on his line for a 1-0 lead in the 31st minute.
The dominant goalie put the blame on himself postgame.
“I think I messed up on the goal,” he said. “I was too focused on talking to the personnel on the wall and wasn’t focused enough on the ball. I should have come out on it, gotten a fist to it or caught it.”
Getting the first goal has been the Red Knights’ modus operandi this season.
“We really focus on trying to score first. We’d love to have it come in the first minute if we could,” Hempfield coach Mark Ashley said. “The guys have been hungry as they’re recognizing how important it is to try to get that first goal in the back of the net.”
Perk Valley improved greatly in the second half with Max Chamorro and Weir carrying a threat on the counterattack as the Vikings started to figure out the slick, rainy turf and large field dimensions of Hersheypark, a venue that District 3’s Hempfield played its previous three games in.
Despite PV’s improvements, Hempfield had the better chances to ice it, two huge chances created down the right by Johnson, the second with Mark Lutz right on the doorstep but unable to get the final touch.
Perk Valley’s best chance came with little over a minute remaining and on the foot of leader Weir as he struck a volley from 18 yards destined for the low, left side of goal.
“My shot at the end that fell to me, I really thought it was in. But the keeper (Brady Ross) flew out of nowhere,” Weir said. “But hats off to them. They played a great game.”
PV’s lasting image of the season will be its push to the very end.
“We know each other so well and love playing together. That comes out in the grit of our game and finishing it out strong every time,” Daubenspeck said.
And for McCabe, who has been around more than two decades, it’s a Vikings’ group that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
“My feeling right now is pride. I’m like a proud papa,” McCabe said. “I love these guys, they work hard. It would have been nice to move on, but we made some history this year at Perk Valley. I thanked the guys over the weekend; it’s been 21 years for me and I’d never gotten here so this was fun for me. It’s one of the greatest teams Perk Valley’s put together and I’m very proud of that.”