GRATERFORD >> It was his birthday, it was Senior Night and after two minutes Perkiomen Valley senior Ryan Dao was removed from the game.
Dao, who entered the game nursing a knee injury, found a seat on the bench and wondered what was going on.
Apparently just resting up to be redeployed to supply Thursday night’s virtual playoff play-in game against Methacton with its biggest moment.
After starting on defense before being moved into the midfield, Dao made an end-to-end run on a counterattack and netted Brian Love’s cross with a poacher’s goal late in the first half before Love forced the defense into a second-half own goal as Perkiomen Valley defeated Methacton 2-0, earning its first trip to the Pioneer Athletic Conference Final Four since 2013 while eliminating the Warriors from the league playoffs.
“It’s crazy. It’s Senior Night, it’s obviously a huge game for us,” Dao said. “Going to the Final Four is the most important thing for us. That was our biggest goal at the beginning of the season. We knew we had an opportunity and now we’re looking forward to trying to get that PAC championship.”
“We’re pretty stoked,” said Love, a junior. “I was at it the last time we were in it when we lost to Spring-Ford (on PKs in 2012) – it was a heartbreaker – and I was thinking then that could be me one day. And now it’s happening.”
Perk Valley improved to 7-3 PAC Liberty, 10-3 PAC and 12-4 overall, finishing level on divisional points with Spring-Ford (2-2 draw vs. Owen J. Roberts Thursday). The Rams claimed the Liberty championship, but the Vikings came through their win-and-you’re-in matchup in fine fashion.
Methacton (6-3-1, 8-4-1, 9-7-2), which finished with 10 men for the final 20 minutes after Logan Rambo saw his second yellow card, was left to deal with a massive disappointment upon finding itself as the odd-team out on the final day of the PAC regular season, missing qualification to Upper Merion (which won the wild-card tiebreaker via head-to-head when UM beat Methacton 2-1) after entering the week tied for first place in the division.
“We’re just not creating enough opportunities up top,” Methacton coach Dave Stevenson said. “They packed the defense pretty tight and they have a good goalkeeper so it was tough to find the net. We’ve been missing it the last couple games.”
The Warriors are still in position to qualify for the District 1-AAAA playoffs, but that was far from their minds in the wake of the 0-2 week.
“(Playing in districts is) something we hopefully can look forward to, but it stings not making the conference playoffs,” Stevenson said. “We were in good position but the last couple games we just couldn’t get it done.”
Perk Valley, conversely, has been on a roll of late, going 8-1 in their last nine, all eight by shutout with goalkeeper Andrew Daubenspeck leading the way.
It’s a serious turnaround for the Vikings, who won just three games two seasons ago.
“Last year we were .500, the year before was our 3-and-whatever where I went super-young and in a way building toward this year with having Daubenspeck and a solid senior core,” coach Bob McCabe said. “But to think we’re going to be 12-4 with 11 shutouts, I wouldn’t have believed it. We have a lot of flaws, and how we’ve pulled some of this off is beyond me. A lot of it is will. I always have great kids who always fight for each other and play hard. I think that’s why teams don’t like to play against us, because we’re scrappy and make it difficult on teams.”
In his 21st season guiding PV, Thursday was one McCabe especially wanted.
“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I was nervous today,” he said. “I don’t have a lot of years left doing this; I’m going to be turning it over to somebody soon. Getting into the Final Four maybe one last time, I really wanted it.”
He got it with an opportunistic attack and mistake-free defense thanks for senior All-Area first teamer Daubenspeck, who made six saves, while being well protected by his back line of Brian Holmes, Andrew Zielke, Jake Rogers and AJ Hansen, and midfielders Matt McCabe, Mike Weir and Matt Holmes, who were happy to play a defensive shape after grabbing to lead late in the first half.
Methacton came out firing early and saw their best chance of the game come 1:40 in when Vince Delisi hit the crossbar from the left side. It would end up their best chance.
It was a tense, playoff-like first half that finally got its breakthrough thanks in part to a Methacton set piece. The ball was cleared to Methacton’s last man but was intercepted and PV’s jailbreak counterattack was on with Love down the right side. He carried it to the end line and crossed right to the doorstep where a sprinting Dao got the decisive touch just ahead of a Warriors’ defender for a 1-0 lead in the 38th minute.
Not a bad result for Dao on what was already a special day.
“(McCabe) puts me back in the midfield and I knew (that sequence) was an opportunity for me to put the ball in the back of the net and I had to take advantage of it,” Dao said.
As the Vikings have found, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
“We’ve slowly built up. My freshman year we had one of our worst years ever, it really stunk. And last year we had a really good defense, but not the offense,” Love said. “But this year we came in and everyone was saying ‘Perk Valley is in it this year,’ but we had to live up to that.
“We came out here tonight and showed that we can play in the big games and can be a force to be reckoned with.”
NOTES >> Perk Valley earned the first wild-card for the PAC playoffs and will face Liberty champion Spring-Ford in the semifinals, 5 p.m. Tuesday at Owen J. Roberts. In the other semifinal, Frontier champion and No. 1 seed Phoenixville will play Upper Merion, also at 5 p.m. … Methacton goalie Mason LeSage made six saves. The Warriors led in corners 4-3.