UWCHLAN >> Moments before sending West Chester Henderson onto the field against Downingtown East on Thursday afternoon, Warriors coach Sean Ryan made his final instruction very simple.
“Go out and get yourselves a Ches-Mont Championship.”
Eighty minutes of exciting soccer later, the task was completed as the Warriors held on for a 3-2 victory over the Cougars.
Henderson finished at 11-2 to clinch the National Division title for the fifth straight season. Despite entering the night tied with Bishop Shanahan, Henderson controlled its own destiny due to a head-to-head win over the Eagles. Shanahan went on to beat Rustin, 1-0, later in the evening, but by then, that result didn’t matter.
Much like the Henderson girls team, the boys suffered heavy graduation losses from a side that was unbeaten in winning the National last season, but that did not deter them from putting another crown in the trophy case.
“For a long time, the surrounding soccer community around us thought our senior class last year was really propping us up, and I think they really underestimated these guys,” Ryan said.
Under brilliant sunshine, the Warriors got things off to a rousing start, a little more than six minutes in, Joao Argolo’s through ball found senior KJ Walkes, who busted through middle past defense, then beat goalkeeper Dan Good.
“Me and Joao, we just have a connection,” said Walkes. “The same thing happened last game. It’s just a slot play and I slotted it under the keeper.”
The euphoria of the 1-0 lead did not last long, however. Barely a minute later, Joey Martini rocketed a shot from about 20 yards out that got through Nick Daniel in goal, to level things.
Henderson started to exhibit a little more pressure, which paid off with 26:20 left in the half. It started with a throw-in that Charlie Collins latched onto at the top of the 18-yard box. He weaved his way from right-to-left to get off a cross that found junior Chris Roberts alone on the back post for the easy header into the open net.
“Charlie Collins really set me up at the back post,” said Roberts. “It was an easy tap-in. He deserves all the credit for that one.”
The Cougars (7-5-1, 7-4-1) battled back and almost tied it again late in the half, but a shot was cleared off the goal line by a Henderson to keep the advantage at halftime.
Henderson struck again early in the second half as Kevin Kiefer turned in a goalmouth scramble to make it 3-1, and the championship was about 35 minutes away.
But, East made those minutes more dramatic than a Shonda Rhimes hit series. The Cougars pulled to 3-2 with 28 minutes left as Zach Stata rose high to meet a corner and put a thumping header into the net.
“One-thousand percent,” said Downingtown East coach Tom Creighton when asked if he appreciated his team’s comeback. “We’re fighters. If they don’t fight, they don’t play. At times, this team loses focus. And I think our lost focus hurt us at times today.”
Both goalies were oustanding, repelling shots to keep the game close. Good ended with 11 saves and Daniel four.
The biggest save of the day, however did not touch a pair of hands.
With about 10 minutes left, Staka once again had a clean header that beat everyone but Jack Cotellese, who was standing on the goal line. He headed the ball away, and the lead was still intact.
The Warriors had to survive one more tense moment as Daniel made a point-blank save before the clock wound down and the championship stayed in West Chester.
Despite the loss, Creighton is anxious for his team to begin District 1 play.
“We can play with anybody and everybody,” he said. “If we focus.”
West Chester Henderson 3
Downingtown East 2
W.C. Henderson 2 1 – 3
Bishop Shanahan 1 1 – 2
W.C. Henderson goals: Wales, Roberts, Kiefer.
Downingtown East goals: Martini, Stata.
Goalie saves: Daniel (WCH) 4, Good (DE) 11.